Extended stay expands
WILLMAR -- Two Willmar businessmen are finding success in offering clean, quiet and safe short-term housing to students, construction workers and others looking to live month by month.
WILLMAR - Two Willmar businessmen are finding success in offering clean, quiet and safe short-term housing to students, construction workers and others looking to live month by month.
Jeff Huston and his son-in-law Gabe Olson bought the old Viking Motel Feb. 1, 2013, and remodeled the 25-room facility into individual efficiency apartments with everything new from carpet and paint to appliances and amenities.
Their housing venture is called Suite Liv’n and is located at 616 Highway 71 N.E. An expansion is under way, and additional apartments are expected to be open next month.
Because the business has been running full since opening Aug. 1, 2013, Huston and Olson thought there may be a market for more than just the 25 rooms that they remodeled.
Huston said they looked at the empty lot on their property and decided maybe they should research the possibility of expanding their business.
So this year they built a two-story structure with 22 studio apartments with full kitchenettes, bigger bathrooms, bigger windows and 9-foot ceilings.
“We wanted to make a bigger room, about 50 percent bigger,’’ said Olson. “How can we make it feel big? How can we make it feel more luxurious? How can it serve people at a (modest) income and make them feel really successful? It’s more of a modern type of living feel and we’re really excited about that.’’
Huston said the new apartments should be open Oct. 15.
“We’re just at the point now where we’re starting to take reservations,’’ he said. “We have a couple of rooms that are already committed and we’re looking for people who are looking to make a move.’’
Huston and Olson have made a significant financial investment: $600,000 for purchase and renovation of the old motel and $800,000 for the new building.
Their project helps fill a void in the area for affordable, safe housing for modest-income people.
“The emphasis is on affordable but also emphasis on safe and clean,’’ said Olson. “We work really hard at that. We have a security system with 26 cameras that monitor the property 24/7, and we run a very clean operation. We have a zero-tolerance criminal policy on our lease. We work hard to be a clean, safe and affordable place for people to live.’’
Huston and Olson require tenants to stay a minimum of six months. They say the requirement reduces the number of people who come and go and allows tenants to get a more restful and quiet stay.
“When apartments are turned over more often, there is more commotion,’’ said Huston. “If we’re not bettering people’s lives, why do this? That’s part of our goal, and obviously we’re here to make a living. But we also want the people to stay and that was important to us.’’
Olson and Huston combine different skills in order to make their business successful.
Olson has been doing construction projects since he was 16. Huston has 25 years of experience in insurance and financial services.
After Huston sold his business about five years ago, he linked up with Olson and created some opportunity by buying, fixing and selling cheap houses when everyone was running from the housing market.
After the housing market picked up and they could not buy houses at such a discounted rate anymore, the pair looked for the next option and came across the motel property.
The pair take pride in turning around a problem property that was underutilized. They feel they have made a positive contribution to the neighboring business community and the Willmar business climate.
“On top of that, this is a business, so it needs to be financially viable,’’ said Huston. “We’ve been very pleased that it is very financially viable for us.’’