FAIRMONT - The Highland Court Motel on the west edge of Fairmont had sat empty for years when Landmark Management Company of Martin County purchased it in January.
Expected to be open for business by spring, the motel just started renting rooms last month, with its official grand opening taking place this week.
"We basically gutted the whole thing and started from scratch," said Julie Riegel with Landmark.
Roger and Pam Garlitch pose for a picture in the lobby of the newly opened Highland Court Motel, which Pam is managing. The motel is located on the west edge of Fairmont on Lake Avenue.
"We're happy with how they turned out. It looks a lot better than it did. Everything was all paneling and not very pretty," she said.
Built in the 1950s, Highland Court is Landmark's first venture into the hotel industry. Landmark has about 150 rental properties, including houses and apartments, in Fairmont and the surrounding area.
When the company's owner Steve Poetter purchased the motel, people assumed his plans were to raze it, but he says he's committed to preserving the building and a little piece of local history.
Poetter started Landmark 12 years ago, but he bought his first properties when he was just 18. Managing a handful of rentals turned out to be more work than the young man anticipated.
"As a part-time business it's kind of hard, because you get all those calls in the middle of the night," he said.
He decided to sell and didn't get back into rentals for about 10 years, until founding Landmark.
"I said if we're going to do this, we're going to do it right," he said, "and I started buying lots of houses. ... People said I do stuff that's too good for the rental industry. But I don't want to rent a house I wouldn't want to live in personally. ... Even though you do get people who trash your houses, if you give them a nice place, they'll usually take care of it."
Poetter has further improvements at Highland Court planned for the spring, like adding an outdoor gazebo, grills and picnic tables, besides finishing up some detail work on the building.
"That end of town needs a little bit of assistance," he said. "I hope this will be a helpful fresh start for something else to happen out there."
The motel has 28 rooms to rent, and it's filling up fast. Most of the rooms are occupied by long-term tenants staying for weeks to months at a time to work on local construction projects.
"They've been just plain awesome," Riegel said.
Rooms rent for $40 a night, $250 a week and $900 a month.
It seems like a lot, but that includes all utilities, cable and Internet, Riegel said.
The facility is being managed by Pam Garlitch, who has plenty of experience in the business. Pam and her husband Roger owned a hotel in Lake City, where they were founding members of the Mississippi Valley Partners Association. The couple live on site, so Pam can manage the day-to-day operations.
"The motel business is a fun business. ... But it's a 24-hour job," she said.
Roger, who is suffering from some serious health problems, is sitting back and letting his wife take over. It's not easy for him, as he's a take-charge kind of guy. While living in Lake City, he helped bring the Walleye National there five years, started a farmer's market with live bands, and raised funds to build a community fish-cleaning house.
"We're really looking forward to being here in Fairmont and being part of the community," Roger said.