The Cornhusker hotel

The Cornhusker hotel.

ERIC GREGORY/Lincoln Journal Star

Marcus Hotels has taken over management of The Cornhusker hotel and is negotiating with its owners for a dominant stake in the Lincoln lodging landmark.

Doug Neis, chief financial officer of Marcus Corp. of Milwaukee, said in an email that Marcus Lincoln LLC had taken over management of the 300-room hotel as of Thursday. Marcus Corp. also owns Marcus Theatres, the chain that owns and operates the first-run movie theaters in Lincoln.   

Public documents earlier had identified Marcus as applying to transfer the hotel's liquor license. Those documents also showed Marcus having 73 percent ownership of the hotel and the rest with an affiliate of LEM Capital. LEM is the Philadelphia real estate investment company that has owned the hotel since taking it away from Atul Bisari this year, in the settlement of a $3.9 million debt.

But that transaction of the ownership is not a done deal, according to Neis.

"We are pursuing a proposed joint venture ownership structure. ... " Neis said in an email. "But the potential transaction has a number of contingencies that have not been resolved as of today. The current ownership has asked us to manage the hotel during this interim time period and we agreed to do so."

Partners of LEM Capital could not be reached for comment.

Signs of Marcus' presence in management of The Cornhusker have been showing up elsewhere.

Marcus Hotels and Resorts' website lists the following positions open at The Cornhusker: controller, director of human resources, director of operations, director of housekeeping, senior event manager, event manager and catering manager. 

LinkedIn's job listing for a human resources manager says of The Cornhusker: "Marcus Hotels and Resorts is thrilled to add this gem to our current hotel portfolio. Like the Pfister in Milwaukee or the Skirvin Hilton in Oklahoma City we know the residents and business professionals of Lincoln will be thrilled with the restoration they are about to witness."

What that "restoration" might mean is not yet clear. 

The previous owner, Bisaria -- after settling differences with the previous management company, Island Hospitality, a Florida group -- had big renovation plans for the hotel as recently as a year ago. But Bisaria's financial conflict with LEM Capital intervened.  

LEM Capital never has announced plans for continued ownership, disposition, renovation or remodeling.

Now, Island Hospitality has taken LEM Capital to court in a dispute over management fees.   

In a lawsuit filed in Lancaster County District Court, Island said it settled efforts to collect a claim of more than $806,000 for management fees from Shubh Hotels, Bisaria's company, by agreeing to continue management of the hotel and accepting a promissory note from Shubh and its successors. Island went to work for LEM Capital after it took over the hotel.

Then LEM entered a joint venture with Marcus, the lawsuit says. The LEM-affiliated companies that still own the hotel have failed to pay Island more than $287,000 in management fees, Island says in the lawsuit, so the whole note is due -- $884,410. LEM could not be reached for comment.   

The lawsuit doesn't name Marcus at all. Island Hospitality officials could not be reached for comment.

The fate of The Cornhusker has been the subject of speculation since Bisaria started having financial problems with other hotel properties several years ago.

He acquired The Cornhusker in 2004 from Castle & Cooke, financier David Murdock's company, which built the hotel in 1983 on the site of its namesake, which was built in 1926. The 10-story hotel, with 287 rooms and 10 suites, is attached to a seven-story office building now known as Cornhusker Plaza and a conference center formerly owned by the city but later sold to Bisaria.

Reach Richard Piersol at 402-473-7241 or at dpiersol@journalstar.com

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