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Jorgenson's enters franchise agreement with Ramada for hotel

Jorgenson's Inn & Suites on 11th Avenue in Helena.

Jorgenson's Inn & Suites on 11th Avenue in Helena.

Jorgenson’s Inn and Suites, a Helena business with more than a half-century history of being a political hotspot and gathering spot where deals were made, has entered into a franchise agreement and will be known as Ramada by Wyndham, an employee said Monday.

Ann Marie Bowers, Jorgenson's general manager, said the restaurant, bar and apartments will retain the Jorgenson name. However, the 112-room hotel will be part of the Ramada chain.

“We are just franchising,” Bowers said. “We are the same owners.”

She said staff is staying the same and the property will retain its core values. Bowers said the deal was reached a couple weeks ago.

She said it is the first time Jorgenson's has entered into a franchise agreement. She said the 10 Montana-based owners include a couple members of the original family.

Employees were answering the phone by the new name on Monday.

Bowers said there are hopes the Ramada name will attract more people and that the marketing of the hotel played a primary role in the decision.

“Ramada has assured (the owners) that occupancy will increase,” she said.

Ramada officials did not return an email seeking comment.

The Facebook page for Jorgenson’s says it has been a Montana tradition for nearly 50 years.

The inn at 1714 11th Ave. was where many lawmakers would stay during legislative sessions.

“Good gracious for 40 years it was THE place,” said Dave Lewis, a former state lawmaker and budget director. “During the legislative session it was where the legislators went to visit and cut their deals.”

Lewis said when he served as budget director in the ‘80s he would often attend a 7 a.m. breakfast held by the House and Senate leadership to discuss how to proceed with the budget.

Lewis said that in the past few years there were other places that surfaced where lawmakers would stay.

Bowers said she was sure the hotel would continue to be a popular place during the legislative session. She also added development on the site of the former Capital Hill Mall -- which will include a Benefis Health System medical facility and other businesses -- will help.

According to a history posted on the Jorgenson’s website, Fred Jorgenson, a young Danish immigrant, was traveling through Montana on his way to California in 1912 when the train broke down in Helena. By the time it was repaired several days later, Jorgenson decided he would make his home in Helena instead.

The family built Jorgenson’s Restaurant, adjacent to a 37-unit motel near the state Capitol in 1958. The motel was later purchased by the Jorgenson family and was expanded into a 102-room complex.

“Jorgenson’s became a landmark in Helena, the convenience and quality of the restaurant and lounge, not only drew the family trade, but because of its proximity to the Capitol, many businessmen, state officials, legislators and lobbyists found Jorgenson’s their ‘in town’ home,” the website states.

Assistant editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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