By the late 1960s, Hammons built nearly three dozen Holiday Inns. He created his own company in 1969 and went on another hotel building spree that was ongoing as he got his start in Oklahoma City.
When he arrived in Oklahoma City, he encountered an old Missouri friend — Bown — and was persuaded that Oklahoma City was on the verge of a dramatic transformation.
By the mid-1990s, Hammons had a preference for his hotels — smaller markets, and designs that included large atriums where guests, especially women, could feel safe taking elevators up to their rooms.
At that time, he was the country's largest independent hotel operator.
Tom Maxwell, chief executive officer of Flintco, said the Renaissance Hotel in Oklahoma City prompted Hammons to take his company private. Hammons didn't agree with the publicly held company's board that he needed to slow down hotel development. The answer, Maxwell said, was to go private.
“He knew what he liked. He pushed the things he thought were right, and was fearless in doing it,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell almost always met Hammons at the reserved table at the University Plaza. They met there repeatedly over a decade as Flintco built 10 hotels — about a third of the projects built in Hammons' final years.
“He had a ... memory that was just amazing,” Maxwell said. “You could talk to him about any city in the country and he could tell you the location of the expressways, the traffic counts, and how many hotels were nearby.”
All went well, until Flintco began construction in 2008 on the Colorado Springs Renaissance Hotel. Maxwell recalls the project came to a halt when lenders who enjoyed Hammons' usual handshake trust backed out as the economy nose-dived.
“It wasn't unusual for him and us to start before he had financing all together,” Maxwell said. “He would pay us out of his own funds.”
Construction stopped on the Colorado Springs hotel in October 2009. Soon after, Hammons underwent heart surgery and gave his power of attorney to longtime personal assistant Jacqueline Dowdy.
After the surgery, Maxwell said, Hammons was never quite the same. And for the first time in his 50-year career as a hotelier, he was unable to complete construction of a hotel.
“It was a heartbreaker for him,” Maxwell said. “Through that whole thing, he was a complete gentleman. I spent a lot of time with him and with different lenders. The timing of it was atrocious.”
Hammons' health rapidly declined. In October 2010, Dowdy took control of the company as Hammons was placed in a Springfield nursing home. A lawsuit filed by longtime friends alleged Dowdy gutted the company's executive ranks and blocked acquaintances from visiting Hammons.
Investors in John Q. Hammons Hotels then filed lawsuit, accusing Dowdy of violating contracts and inappropriately seizing control of the company.
Neither Dowdy, officials with Hammons Hotels nor the plaintiffs, Atrium Hotels, returned calls to The Oklahoman.
Local probate attorneys contacted by The Oklahoman suggest the investors' stance may be stronger following Hammons' death because in Missouri, one's power of attorney expires once the person who gave that power dies.
Business as usual
Maxwell has nothing but fond memories of Hammons. The contractor took possession of the Colorado Springs hotel when it went into foreclosure; it's now under contract with a developer set to resume construction.
Michael Carrier, Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau president, has high regard for Hammons' local management team.
“I have not seen a change in how they operate the last several years,” he said. “For all practical purposes as it appears to us ... it has been business as usual. They still made every effort to provide the quality of service that Mr. Hammons expected.”
But Carrier is closely watching the conflict in Springfield. Hammons Hotels, he said, is Oklahoma City's primary partner in the downtown hotel and convention business.
“I think you always have to be concerned when there is a situation of this nature,” Carrier said. “While he was alive, there was always a great deal of respect for how he wanted things done. Hopefully we'll continue to see things done that way — in a quality manner.”