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The Suite Life

Paul Coury

Tulsa People, October 2008

By Nichole Nascenzi

Paul Coury transforms historic downtown properties into unique boutique hotels

Native Tulsan Paul Coury is passionate about history. So when he sees an opportunity to save or promote it, he doesn't holdback.

He is best known for reinventing one of Tulsa's landmarks, the Hotel Ambassador. Coury saw potential and beauty in the abandoned downtown Structure and, in 1997 transformed it into one of the finest destinations for Tulsa travelers. Today, it is on the National Register of Historic Places

A University of Tulsa Graduate, Coury's first job was in the commercial real estate department of a local bank. His love of historic properties turned into a business when he founded Coury Properties in 1985. He expanded his business last year when launched the Coury Collection, a professional services consultancy dedicated to the development and management of boutique hospitality properties.

With an eye for detail and design, he has overseen more than 20 redevelopment projects in Oklahoma and he is involved in the management of four hotels: the Hotel Ambassador, the Ashton Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas; the Colcord Hotel in Oklahoma City; and the Inn at Price Tower in Bartlesville.

A philanthropist and community volunteer, Coury's past and recent civic involvement's include: the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Task Force on Downtown Tulsa; the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic Foundation chairmanship; chair, Young Presidents Organization; the Newman Center at the University of Tulsa; River Parks Authority Board; chair, Tulsa Trails expansion; and chair, Tulsa Unlimited.

Here, Coury's thought on his recent projects, his goals and his passion for historical buildings.

"When you walk through a historic property, there is an allure of the past; hotel guests conjure up what has gone on there before - it brings out the romantic side of people.

It is amazing to me that properties are still being adapted and renewed - up to five generations have passed through some of these buildings.

My interest in historic properties started when a group of investors purchased the Mayo Hotel in 1988. Our intention was to restore it as a hotel. We were negotiating with a major hotel chain to manage the property. (Coury owned the Mayo with a partnership from 1987 to 1991 and attempted to renovate it as a Hyatt Suites Hotel.)

The cost and scope of the project were restrictive. Several years later, when the concept of the Ambassador was developing , I decided to create it as an independent flag hotel not tied to a major chain. Although it seemed extreme at the time to create a 55 room hotel on a limited budget, ironically, we were on the early part of the curve. Today, the independent boutique hotels are more common.

We recently completed a $500,000 renovation of the Ambassador. The Hotel retains its classic look but is now a bit more up to date. Guests will see new carpet in the corridors, new lamps, flat-screen televisions and new armoires in the rooms.

We have plans to grow in the Midwest and we have several projects in the early stages, but it is too early to discuss details.

I have always been d bid history buff. I think once the experience was awakened by exploring options with the Mayo, it became a passion.

Older properties seem to have more detail in their architectural design. You don't see that level of detail today because construction is driven by cost. The detail in the old properties is craftsmanship and, in some cases, artistry. Today, cost-effective modern materials make it impossible to achieve the look and lasting qualities of older materials, such as terra cotta and plaster.

Many people, including university professors, bosses and investors, have influenced me over my career. I gain something from almost every person I meet.

Most of my passion is my work. I am always looking at designs and keeping a visual diary - taking pictures while traveling and bringing the best ideas back to my properties.

Tulsa has a great history as a leading second-tier city. We need to call on our leaders and citizens to reclaim our glory days. It will take time, talent and treasure but, most of all, new young leaders to create multiple draws to bring people downtown."