News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Ralph Bivins, Houston Chronicle
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 20--The old Sam Houston Hotel, closed for years, is about to make a comeback.
When it opened in 1924, its operators considered it an ideal hotel for business travelers because it was located near the Union Station train depot.
In those days, rooms went for $2 to $2.50 a night. Today, a faded sign painted on the building's west side gives proof of the bargain rates of the 1920s era.
Nightly room rates will be a little higher this time around. When the Sam Houston reopens this fall, guests will be expected to pay closer to $200 a night.
In order to get some of the highest rates in town, Spire Realty is planning to offer 24-hour room service, twice-daily maid service and in-room spa treatments, high-speed Internet connections and DVD players.
The modern amenities will be a far cry from what the original operators of the Sam Houston were promoting when the hotel opened 78 years ago -- hot and cold water, telephone service and a bathroom in each guest room. On the ground floor, there was a haberdashery, a cigar stand and a public stenographer.
The old Sam Houston boasted about its good ventilation. Having air-conditioned guest rooms was only a dream.
The 106-room downtown hotel, is located at the corner of Prairie and San Jacinto, near the county courthouse facilities.
Being located near the courts will enable the Sam Houston Hotel to attract lawyers who will stay there during trials, said Bill Franks of Spire Realty.
Spire executives also expect the hotel to capitalize on the growth of the downtown convention and tourism business, Franks said. The expansion to the George R. Brown Convention Center and a new downtown arena for the Houston Rockets will increase the need for downtown hotel rooms, Franks said.
The 10-story, red-brick hotel, vacant since 1975, was acquired by Spire about two years ago. Spire has redeveloped a number of old downtown buildings in recent years.
"A lot of people walk past abandoned buildings and say downtown is deplorable," Franks said. "We take the abandoned eyesores, which are diamonds in the rough, and make them into viable, economically feasible properties."
The $14 million Sam Houston Hotel renovation project should be completed in the fall.
The Sam Houston is being redeveloped with the assistance of a hotel occupancy tax rebate from the city that will total $930,000 paid to Spire over seven years.
The hotel tax rebate, approved by the City Council, is intended to encourage hotel development downtown and alleviate the shortage of rooms, said Bill Calderon, assistant director of planning and development for the city of Houston.
As part of the program, Spire will be required to place a sizable portion of its rooms into the supply of hotel rooms needed by the Convention and Visitors Bureau when large conventions come to Houston.
The Sam Houston joins a long list of new hotels coming into downtown.
A total of 2,000 hotel rooms are being added in downtown, almost doubling the amount of downtown hotel rooms to 4,200.
But even with the increase, the city's downtown still has a shortage of hotels, said hotel consultant John Keeling of PKF Consulting.
"There is not a danger of overbuilding in the near term," Keeling said. "We are still way under what we need."
After the downtown convention center expansion is completed next year, the demand for hotels will be increasing sharply, he said.
"We believe there is a demand for 6,000 hotel rooms in downtown Houston," said Laura Van Ness, director of business development for Central Houston, a nonprofit group that promotes downtown revitalization.
She said a number of hotel developers have been scouring downtown, looking for development opportunities.
"We don't have to call them. They are calling us," Van Ness said.
Hotel projects, proposed or under way in downtown, include:
The 1,200-room Hilton Americas-Houston, which will be connected by skywalks to the George R. Brown Convention Center, opens in 2003.
The Steven Holtze Co. of Denver is redeveloping a historic 22-story building at the corner of Texas and Fannin into the 300-room Magnolia Hotel.
Humble Oil Building on Main Street is being redeveloped into a 191-room Courtyard by Marriott and a 171-room Residence Inn by Marriott.
Housing Horizons recently purchased the old Texaco Building, located at Rusk and San Jacinto. The firm, a subsidiary of Kimberly Clark, is considering a hotel redevelopment.
When the light rail line is completed, and the convention facilities are complete, the new hotel operators can look to a downtown market that is shaping up to be very lucrative in the near future, said Mark Yanke, president of the Hotel and Motel Association of Greater Houston.
"The timing is good for these guys," Yanke said.
-----To see more of the Houston Chronicle, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.HoustonChronicle.com
(c) 2002, Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. HLT, MAR, KMB,
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