Trump's 'You're fired' fails to deter La. hotelier

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LAFAYETTE, La. -- Felisha Mason sounds like a proud parent when she talks about her first baby, a recently opened 92-room Econo Lodge Inn & Suites here.

It is a beautiful hotel, said Mason, who has never owned a hotel before. It is, by far, the nicest Econo Lodge and Suites in the entire country.

But among its many attributes, the hotel has at least two distinctive features.

One is its marble lobby, which is unusual for a moderately priced hotel.

The other is Felisha Mason.

After all, she may be the only hotel owner ever to be fired by Donald Trump on national television.

In addition to being a hotelier, a licensed airplane pilot and racer of sailboats, Mason is an entrepreneur and, until recently, a contestant on The Apprentice, the popular reality series in which 18 individuals vie for a coveted executive post in Trumps business empire.

The contestants on the show this season were split into two teams. Each week, after completing certain tasks, the results were evaluated by Trump and his executives. Those who succeeded moved on to compete another day. Those who didnt heard the familiar, Youre fired, from Trump.

Mason hung on for 11 weeks of challenges, until her team was whittled down to two: her and team leader Alla.

But the pair lost a challenge and were called to the infamous boardroom.

For fans of the show, it was a typical scene. As Felisha and Alla defended themselves to Trump, there was backstabbing, bickering, insults and even tears. In the end, both were fired.

Mason said her Apprentice-ship began when a former boyfriend flew to New York to apply for the show.

He really idolized Donald Trump. He really wanted to be on show. We used to have Apprentice parties, inviting friends over to watch, Mason said.

Mason later applied for the show, ultimately beating out thousands of other applicants to become a contestant.

After Mason was selected for the show, she traveled to New York for two months to participate in the tapings -- just as her bank came through with a $1.5 million loan commitment letter to build the Econo Lodge & Suites, a slightly more upscale version of Econo Lodge, Choice Hotels Internationals economy brand.

But to appear on The Apprentice, Mason had to sign a confidentiality agreement that prohibited her from revealing to anyone, including her bank, that she was on the show.

In short, she left town without telling her bankers, who had no idea where she was, Mason said. So when I disappeared, they rescinded the loan.

Mason, 29, said she couldnt blame her bank. On the surface, it reasonably could conclude that I was a flighty blonde, she said with a laugh. It was crazy, and things really went to a stalemate for this property. Things sort of fell apart.

When Mason finally completed The Apprentice, which is filmed months before it airs, and returned to Lafayette, it took me a month or two to dig it out [from under the red tape]. I had to go back to the bank and tell them where I had been.

Of course, they were not impressed. The bank doesnt care about reality TV, she said.

Nevertheless, Mason was able to convince the bank to resuscitate the loan. And despite the damage caused this summer by Hurricane Rita, Mason opened her hotel.

Today, she spends as much time as possible at the property.

I believe when you get a hotel that you need to manage it yourself for sometime, said Mason, who completed several training courses offered by Choice for new franchisees, while drawing on her own experience as an investor in an apartment building in Kansas City and several condo units.

I definitely want to do another hotel, she said.

To contact reporter Michael Milligan, send e-mail to[email protected].

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