Junny Lee and the group of South Korean real estate investors he represents are bullish on the Hartford market, which is why they purchased the mortgage of the city's Ramada Plaza hotel in 2010.
About a year and a half later, after a lengthy foreclosure process, Lee's firm Magilink Group has now taken full control of the property and is planning to invest an undisclosed amount of money to renovate it.
While Greater Hartford hotel occupancy rates have taken a hit in recent years, falling as low as 50 percent in 2009, according to Lee, Magilink investors, with its U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles, see the Ramada Plaza investment is part of a strategy to grow an East Coast presence. The group has chosen Hartford as their initial beachhead, but is looking to make other investments in New England as well, Lee said.
The firm's investment portfolio consists of 13 commercial properties, including two other hotels — a Ramada Inn in Los Angeles and the group's first ground-up hotel in Texas. Magilink is involved in various types of real estate developments, Lee said, including office buildings, retail strip malls and multifamily housing projects.
"We are very bullish about the Hartford market," said Lee, a 30-year-old graduate of Tufts University in Boston, whose father Ny Lee heads Magilink. "We feel like the property has potential."
Junny Lee said Magilink targeted Connecticut because of its proximity to New York and Boston. The Ramada, with 350 rooms, is also one of the largest hotels in the region, which Lee said could better capitalize on the business travelers and convention goers who flow in and out of the city.
"Those are the customers we are aiming to serve," Lee said.
Magilink Group took over ownership of the Ramada hotel from CHOA Vision LLC, which filed for bankruptcy in 2010 and recently lost the building to foreclosure. A receivership group is still managing the operations of the hotel, but that is expected to change in the coming weeks, Lee said.
In terms of the renovations, Lee didn't disclose many details. He did say, however, the buyers will not change the ratio of king beds to double beds, which stands at 60 percent and 40 percent respectively.
Convention officials have raised concerns that there are too few double-beds downtown to cater to convention goers.
Lee said Hartford's high commercial vacancy rates are a concern, but he anticipates hotel occupancy rates in Greater Hartford to reach 60 percent by the end of this year. "I think the bad times are behind us," Lee said.