Howard Johnson closes today, owners cite financial troubles as cause

Published 3:13 pm Monday, February 26, 2018

The Howard Johnson Hotel on Tallahassee Highway in Bainbridge closed its doors today due to financial concerns.

Owned by Mike Harrell, president and CEO of Southwest Georgia Oil, the hotel featured the Landing Bar and Grill and a reception area that was a popular meeting place for civic clubs and other groups.

Harrell went in with a group of buyers to save the Howard Johnson, at that time called the Charter House, 10 years ago, partly because he believed it was an iconic piece of Bainbridge that deserved to stay locally owned. It was opened as a Holiday Inn in Warren Coffey in November 1969.

Email newsletter signup

“For me it was an iconic building that I hated to see close,” Harrell said. “After battling for two to three years and taking a heavy economic shot to the chin, I decided it would be in my best interest and Southwest Georgia Oil’s to close the place down.”

Harrell insisted the first order of business was taking care of his employees. The almost 30 workers will be paid severance and helped to find new jobs with help from Wyndham Hotels, Howard Johnson’s parent company, Southwest Georgia Oil and other labor departments.

Guests and people who have booked the reception area are being notified so plans can be changed without too much disruption. Days Inn, located down the street from the Howard Johnson, is also a Wyndham hotel and will be used for diverting guests.

Harrell’s plan will be to preserve and maintain the property while entertaining offers from buyers. Plans to demolish the back end of the hotel were already in place before the news of Howard Johnson’s closing, so residents can expect to see those 44 rooms removed over the coming months. The rest of the hotel’s 76 rooms will remain in place.

“Mike continued to pour resources into the business,” said Glennie Bench, CFO at Southwest Georgia Oil. “We tried to find a way to make it work, tried to serve lunch, had different management, branded it the Howard Johnson, and it just didn’t work. (Harrell) just could not continue to pour resources into it.”

Harrell acknowledged the property, checking in at six acres, was prime real estate. Sitting at the junction of Tallahassee Highway and Highway 84, visitors coming through Bainbridge almost always pass the Howard Johnson. If a deal isn’t made to sell or rent the property, Harrell said it could be used as a location for a Southwest Georgia Oil gas station and travel center.

“In the end, (Southwest Georgia Oil’s) DNA doesn’t extend to hospitality and lodging,” Harrell said.