ORLANDO At the annual Ramada/RINA conference held here earlier this month, Steve Belmonte, president/CEO of Ramada Franchise Systems, announced growth plans for the brand that include a $30 million strategy to further position Ramada in the upper mid-market segment. The Cendant-owned brand has also created a $14 million development advancement fund for the larger, high-end franchise services in center city locations. Ramada will lend up to 15% of a property s annual gross room revenue with a minimum loan amount of $50,000 and a maximum of $200,000. Payments will be spread over three years. The first property to take advantage of this fund is the New Yorker in Manhattan, which is now the Ramada Inn and Plaza New Yorker Hotel. That property has just undergone a $30 million top-to-bottom renovation. Three other properties, in Atlantic City; Richmond, VA; and New Orleans will also upgrade through the funding. Another $6 million advancement fund has also been established to convert high profile properties to Ramadas in 30 key secondary markets and airport locations. Belmonte also debuted a new-construction 120-room prototype that comes equipped with a new welcome center that is completely unlike anything that is seen now. The new prototype will have electronic check-in and check-out available via lobby kiosks, as well as cordless phones and high-speed in-room Internet access. Construction costs for the new prototype are approximately $42,000 including FF&E but not land. Ramada also said it has signed an agreement with Bennigan s Grill and Tavern so that franchisees in desirable locations can bring Bennigans to the property under a long term lease. While many beneficial changes are taking place at Ramada, Belmonte did note that he is unhappy with the hotel owners and general mangers sense of pride and leadership. These skills need to be instilled because we are in the people business, he stated at the general session. Belmonte advised owners and general managers to touch the lives of their employees by getting to know them, reaching out to them and by helping them. Some suggestions to achieving this were to have a no layoff policy, to offer summer jobs to the children of the employees and by simply taking the time to learn and practice management techniques.