The hotel business is one subject Michael Frimel understands. Wichita is another.
Frimel, general manager of downtown’s newest hotel, the Ambassador Wichita, is no stranger to the upscale hotel business or the Air Capital. He has 30 years running high-end hotels, and he spent two years in the early 1980s in Wichita.
“I’ve been with a variety of higher-end hotels – the Doubletree, Hilton, Hyatt – and I’ve moved up in virtually every single one of them, doing everything,” he said. “Front office, housekeeping, sales, catering, restaurants.”
And retail: Frimel was one of the staffers who opened the Target store at Towne East Square.
He’s been with Ambassador developer Paul Coury for almost six years, opening hotels in Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Kansas City, Bartlesville and Tulsa while running the Ambassador Tulsa.
Q. What intrigued you about Wichita?
A. “I’m a huge downtown advocate, so this property was the perfect situation downtown. It’s a nice-sized hotel including a restaurant that we’ll run, too. Tulsa has a restaurant, and that one’s leased. I have family here, too, so it’s a great opportunity to open a really nice boutique hotel in a nice city.”
Q. What is a boutique hotel?
A. “It’s a hotel of 125 rooms or less with more personalized service. The staff is limited, but we do extra things you won’t typically find in a bigger hotel: turndown service every night, complimentary bottled water from the front desk to your room, a Cadillac Escalade shuttle to the airport and within a short radius of the hotel, to and from downtown offices and the outside outskirts of downtown.
“We work to train our staff. We don’t have somebody standing at the door asking for tips and gratuities. Everything we do for you is included in the price. We may charge a little more, but it’s about personalized service and the feeling that ‘I’m not in a huge hotel where I’m Room 425.’ It’s about a level of service that isn’t daunting but is a memorable experience.”
Q. Why will the boutique concept work in Wichita?
A. “First, it’s something Wichita doesn’t currently have. Wichita is a very progressive city that will embrace this product and level of service. I’ve been out and about the past couple of months and I’ve found Wichita has a friendly base of constituents. You’re overwhelmingly welcoming, and I think that fits in very well with our concept.”
Q. Your hotel is the first of several major developments making your block the first to completely redevelop under the city’s master plan. Is the Ambassador responsible for that?
A. “I don’t know that we can actually take credit for all of that, but it’s wonderful that people want to assign credit to us. It’s a piece of it, for sure.
“I think people saw an opportunity with the hotel to do something with the Henry’s building and the parking garage. I think Kansas Health was in the throes of the expansion anyway. It all says to me that Wichita’s ready to develop its downtown. If we happen to be that catalyst, great, but it’s not something we look at and say we were. We just think the timing is great.”
Q. What’s the one fact people don’t know about the Ambassador Wichita?
A. “The windows. Every room has three or four windows, and you’ll get a good look at downtown. In this facility, there are a lot of rooms on every corner with windows on both sides. You’re going to feel like you’re in a master suite in your home instead of a hotel room.”