MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The welcome mat is out in Whitehaven after $22 million was spent to renovate and renew a rundown airport hotel that sits in one of the city’s most blighted areas.
As people touch down in the land of the Delta Blues, their first impression is a little rough.
“Memphis used to be known for music and blues and things, so it’s kinda sad to me,” tourist Bruce Jenkins said.
Vacant hotels and rental car lots show a once thriving airport community gone…but maybe not for good.
“We are looking to bring the business back and increase it even more,” general manager Jose Gallego said.
Gallego’s on a mission. He moves fast, and you may not catch his every word, but it’s hard to miss this – $22 million spent to turn a rundown, no-name hotel into one of the city’s best. And it’s personal – he ran the place in its hayday back in the ’90s.
“I know the potential, and I know the area has some challenges,” he said. “We can bring a lot to the community.”
More than 200 rooms, the second largest convention space in the city, the fastest WiFi, and a fitness center bigger than anything in town, with the airport and bus terminal, it’s like a gem in this shuttered area.
“This is kinda where I was born and raised around here, I love it. Glad they brought the building back in,” Memphis resident Tommy Harper said.
Gallego’s daughter was born in Memphis, his hotel career grew here, and now, even though everyone calls him crazy for leaving the big time in Chicago, he’s here. He hired his former employees, and is looking to see this area take off once more.
“My company said, ‘You’re crazy.’ I said, we want to go back and we want to be proud and show we care,” Gallego said.