Best Western is looking good

Just about anyone who has spent appreciable time in Fort Dodge is familiar with the pleasures and conveniences afforded by the Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites, 1518 Third Ave., N.W. – the junction of U.S. Highway 169 and Iowa Highway 7.

The hotel, which has been in operation since 1962, is one of the busiest and most complete hotel complexes in north central Iowa.

The Starlite has recently enhanced its event and conference facilities and lobby area.

“We just renovated the entire conference space,” said Lonnie Bacon, the hotel’s general manager. “Renovated the bar, ceiling, the walls. It used to be glass between the conference space and the pool. They put up a full wall there. There is just a little bit of glass now. There are two buffet lines, one big bar, a dance floor. It’s a beautiful space.”

The look of the rooms has changed and other improvements have been added.

“We put some brick on the walls,” Bacon said. “We put a new sound system in there. It is a great sound system.”

The conference area at the Starlite consists of four rooms that can be configured separately or combined into one massive space.

“Three of them are equal-sized and then there is the main Zodiac Room,” Bacon explained. “Jupiter, Saturn and Neptune are all just small conference spaces. They seat up to about 50 people apiece. They all open up into one huge room. Zodiac is the space with the bar and the buffet line. When we open it all up, it would be called Astro.”

He said the Starlite’s Astro room is the largest facility of its type in Fort Dodge.

“It sits up to 450 people comfortably,” Bacon said.

Flexibility is the secret of the Starlite’s success in hosting a wide array of meetings, weddings and other special events, Bacon said.

“I’d say we have 50 to 60 large events a year,” he said. “Sometimes we have two weddings on a weekend. Every weekend we have something going on. And we do stuff during the week as well. … We do buffets as well as serve sit-down meals.”

Having the conference center in the heart of a full-service hotel is a major advantage in marketing the space, Bacon said.

“I think what sets us apart most is our amenities, and the fact that we have a hotel here,” he said. “The hotel is 99 rooms. We have a pool, exercise room, arcade, a restaurant attached. … We feature some of the nicest rooms in town.”

Bacon said the availability of room blocks for the conference space makes holding an event at the Starlite exceptionally attractive if there will be out-of-town participants.

“It’s a very convenient atmosphere for them,” he said.

The conference area isn’t the only part of the Starlite that has been reworked. The hotel lobby area is undergoing renovations that are expected to be finished this month.

“I just remodeled the front desk area, very modern,” Bacon said. “We are remodeling the lobby as well. They are putting in a new ceiling. There will be new signage for the conference space. There is a lot of brick work.”

The lobby area also will feature a fireplace and an adjacent revamped business center.

“We’re always upgrading,” Bacon said. “It’s a never-ending process. The next thing we are going to upgrade is the bar in Buford’s sometime this summer. Then we’ll do a little more with the pool area.”

Bacon said the Starlite’s large restaurant – Buford’s Steak House and Barbeque – strengthens the hotel’s ability to serve the needs of diverse patrons.

“We feature smoked foods, steaks. It has a family atmosphere,” he said. “We feature great customer service, excellent food, affordable dining. There are lunch and dinner specials. We have a private party area called the Bunkhouse. It seats up to 50.”

The Bunkhouse is an ideal setting for events such as graduation parties and rehearsal dinners, Bacon said.

Meet Lonnie Bacon

Lonnie Bacon is originally from Wichita, Kan. He graduated from Christian Center Academy there in 1994 and attended Wichita’s Friends University. He completed his education at Iowa Central Community College where his focus was business. Bacon has been part of the team at the Starlite since Aug. 1, 2002. He began as part of the wait staff at Buford’s.

“I worked my way into management in six months,” Bacon said.

He has been the Starlite’s general manager since January.

Bacon is enthusiastic about his new role.

“I love it,” he said. “I’m very much about guest service, making sure my guest has a wonderful time. … You meet new people every day. It’s ever-changing. Always new things to accomplish and overcome.”

Bacon said Webster County’s economic boom has helped the Starlite thrive.

“It’s been beautiful for us,” he said. “With all the plants, we’ve been working hand in hand. Not only do we provide them with conference space, we do catering for these companies. We also provide them with rooms for their people.”

Bacon is bullish about the town’s economic prospects.

“I love Fort Dodge,” he said. “I think Fort Dodge has a lot of potential for growth. … I’m proud to call Fort Dodge my home.”

About the Starlite

The Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites hotel is locally owned by Ackerman Investment Co. It typically has a staff of about 70, Bacon said, noting that those workers contribute greatly to the hotel’s success.

“I have a lot of people who have worked here for years and years, who I am very lucky to have,” he said.

Being part of the Best Western system is also a major plus, according to Bacon.

“We’re part of the biggest chain in the world,” he said. “We have a lot of repeat customers from being a Best Western. People build loyalty to certain brands.”

He said Best Western Rewards, the company’s program to recognize repeat guests, is one of the draws for frequent travelers.