Holiday Inn / Palace Arms Hotel
The former Bismarck Holiday Inn was a nationally renowned hotel and convention center that operated for decades near the Liberty Memorial Bridge. At its prime, Bismarck’s Holiday Inn was the city’s highest earning hotel and among the top-earning Holiday Inns nationwide.
The hotel hosted numerous celebrities and politicians, including former President Ronald Reagan, former Vice Presidents George Bush and Walter Mondale, author Pearl Buck, and columnist Ann Landers.
The hotel was nationally recognized, and one of the most successful hotels ever to bare the Holiday Inn name. Dan Mayer, the sales director during the hotel’s golden years, was once recognized at the chain’s corporate headquarters for the success seen at the hotel.
Opened in 1962, the hotel was re-branded as Ramada in 1992. Upon losing the Ramada franchise in 1996, it became Hotel Bismarck in 1996. It served under the name Palace Arms Hotel at closing.
It was the first Holiday Inn to open in North Dakota, and the first west of Minneapolis and north of Sioux Falls.
After years of decline, numerous ownership changes, and several re-branding attempts, the hotel ultimately became a haven for criminal activity and shuttered in 2001.
Prior to housing the Holiday Inn, the site was home to Tyler Cabins, whose former office is now the Little Cottage Cafe. The Tjadens, who owned Tyler Cabins, developed the $1.3 million hotel on the site, which opened as the Holiday Inn in 1962.
At the time of opening, it was arguably the best positioned hotel in the city, located the crossroad between Bismarck and Mandan along U.S. Highway 10. The neighboring Liberty Memorial Bridge was the only vehicular bridge spanning the Missouri River within hundreds of miles.
The hotel originally boasted 108 rooms, a small cocktail lounge, and a restaurant. Several expansions would follow.
The first came in 1966, for $850,000, adding 60 rooms, a meeting room, and an indoor swimming pool. Interestingly, Bismarck’s Holiday Inn was not only the first local hotel to feature an indoor pool, it was the first in the chain to include a pool indoor vs out, added against the objections of the Holiday Inn corporate office.
The biggest expansion was a six-story tower added in 1972, bring the room count to 261 and adding a 7,000-square foot banquet room. At this point, the hotel was valued at over $5 million.
The Tjadens sold the hotel in 1983. A $1.7 million renovation was completed the following year.
In 1992, Holiday Inn opted not to renew its franchise agreement with the property. In turn, it affiliated with Ramada while downtown’s Sheraton Galleria assumed the Holiday Inn name.
Ownership Changes, Franchise Pulled
Between 1994 and 2001, the hotel transferred ownership ten times.
In 1994, the parent company who owned the Holiday Inn-turned-Ramada filed for bankruptcy and sold the hotel. Thee months later, the hotel was sold again. The hotel changed hands again in 1995 and 1996 before losing the Ramada franchise in November 1996.
The hotel was re-branded Hotel Bismarck and Convention Center before again transferring ownership, in 1997. In 1999 alone, four owners took possession of the quivering hotel. The next year, 2000, two owners.
Closure & Demolition
By 2001, after a series of successive owners failed to succeed, the once-glorified hotel, now known as Palace Arms, became a haven for criminals, transients, and illegal juvenile parties. The pool area was filled in and closed, along with the lounge and restaurant.
During its last year of operation, alone, police received more than 200 calls to the property.
The hotel closed on December 7, 2001 after MDU discontinued service for lack of payment. At the time, most of the building had already been closed off. Garbage and other debris filled the badly lit building, and vandals had repeatedly struck inside and out. There were 11 long-term tenants living at the hotel and 5 traditional guests. Most of these were hotel employees.
Soon after, Florida-based First Union National Bank foreclosed on the property, whose value had degraded to only $1.26 million, roughly the initial cost of construction in 1961. At its peak, the hotel was valued at over $5 million.
After ceasing hotel operations, the former hotel was utilized for a wide variety of purposes, including worship services, police training, and even ghost hunting.
The building was demolished in 2006 to make way for the new Bank of North Dakota building.
Originally, Bismarck Arts and Science Pavilion and Bismarck Parks & Recreation jointly sought the site for a multi-million dollar arts and science center. The partners even bid on the site in 2014, but were outbid soon after by Bank of North Dakota who offered $1.88 million while assuming demolition and and environmental remediation costs.
Causes For Demise
Many unforeseeable contributing factors lead to the hotel’s ultimate demise. The first, and perhaps most important, was the completion of Interstate 94 in 1965, which shifted through traffic to the north while adding a second vehicular river crossing.
The opening of the Bismarck Civic Center in 1969, neighboring Kirkwood Mall in 1971, and subsequent development of Kirkwood Motor Inn – situated directly across from Kirkwood Mall – also influenced the hotel’s decline. In addition to its primer location, Kirkwood Motor Inn (now Ramkota) later added a convention center that dwarfed that of Holiday Inn’s.
Other modern hotels in locations with better access to attractions and Interstate 94 further increased competition, namely Town House Hotel (now Kelly Inn), Ramada Doublewood Inn, and Sheraton Galleria, the latter of which grasped the Holiday Inn franchise in 1992.
The Holiday Inn was not the only business in the area to suffer. A gas station and A&W Restaurant also closed long ago.
Holiday Inn Today
After the original Sheraton Galleria downtown later dropped Holiday Inn in favor of Radisson, the franchise disappeared from the local businesscape until a Holiday Inn Express was built in 2004. A traditional Holiday Inn opened in 2014 along State Street.