News for the Hospitality Executive
|Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 12, 2003 - FORT WORTH, Texas--City officials picked four developers Tuesday to interview about proposals to build a luxury, 400-room or larger convention center hotel downtown.
The four companies -- Austin Commercial in Dallas, Hines in Dallas, Omni Hotels in Irving and Stormont Hospitality Group in Atlanta -- were chosen unanimously by the Central City Revitalization and Economic Development Committee.
The committee is scheduled to interview those companies behind closed doors Nov. 17, and it could recommend the top one or two by early December to begin further negotiations with the city, said Councilwoman Wendy Davis, who heads the committee.
"We are very pleased," Davis said. "We have some wonderful proposals to choose from -- two really significantly would rely on private proposals, two would rely on public partnerships."
Davis said the four developers offer the best value to the city, are able to provide equity and debt financing, showed innovation and creativity and offered minimal financial risk to the city.
Three of the developers -- Austin Commercial, Hines and Stormont -- indicated that they'd partner with Hilton Hotels.
Austin Commercial in Dallas indicated that it would also partner with Gideon Toal, The Projects Group and Hellmuth, Obata Kassabaum. Hines would also partner with Hellmuth, Obata Kassabaum and with Centex Construction Co. Stormont would also partner with Cooper Carry. Omni Hotels in Irving didn't list any partners.
"Our evaluation tells us that each of these proposals would result in a first-class hotel that would complement the newly renovated convention center and would help our city become more competitive in the convention business," Davis said.
This is the latest step in the ongoing process to determine whether the city should build, or find a partner to build, a downtown convention hotel.
City staff sought hotel proposals this summer and received nine. City consultants and elected leaders have been reviewing the proposals since then.
"It's going to be a matter of interviewing them and finding out more about their plan," said Councilman Frank Moss, a committee member.
Councilman John Stevenson, who also serves on the committee, said he was encouraged by the number of proposals.
"I look forward to getting into the down-and-dirty details of negotiating," Stevenson said. "I'm absolutely convinced we will find something to meet our needs."
The city last considered building a hotel with a private developer in 2001, but changed course the next year with plans to build a city-owned hotel financed with the sale of certificates of obligation. That proposal was tabled after a petition drive against it that would have forced the issue to be decided by voters.
Clayton Elliott, a senior vice president at Hines, said he was "happy to hear the news" that his firm was among the four picked by the city for further negotiations.
Hines proposes building a 600-room, 15-story, four-star hotel that would include restaurants, a lobby lounge, pool, health club and a business center, Elliott said. The plan includes a main ballroom, junior ballroom and breakout meeting space.
The affiliation with Hilton would be open to further discussion, Elliott said.
The hotel's final design has not been determined but would be "reflective of downtown Fort Worth and the new convention center as well," he said.
"We want to design a project that will help showcase Fort Worth's heritage and amenities and give guests a superior value," Elliott said.
Ralph Cook, a senior project manager for Austin Commercial in Dallas, said his firm would "love to do this job."
"It's a great project, and I think it will do a lot for economic development in Fort Worth," he said. Austin Commercial is overseeing renovations at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
Although Cook stressed that the proposal is "totally flexible," Austin initially proposed an 18-story, 560-room hotel that would include ballrooms, meeting space and a full-service concierge. The guest rooms would be considered three- to four-star amenities.
He said decisions about what to include in the final proposal would ultimately hinge on what the city wants and what the operator determines is the "best economic solution."
Major decisions still to be made would include where to locate the hotel and parking facilities, he said.
Scott Johnson of Omni Hotels in Irving would not discuss the specifics of his company's proposal, but said that it "would result in a hotel that exceeds all of the requirements the city asked for."
"We're looking forward to presenting to the City Council next week why we are the best option for the city of Fort Worth," he said. "At the end of the day, we believe we are going to be selected."
Steve Moffett, the spokesman for Stormont Hospitality Group in Atlanta, was not available for comment.
Five other companies had submitted proposals but were not picked by the committee for further negotiation. They are: FaulknerUSA of Austin, which had proposed partnering with acclaimed architect David M. Schwarz; Garfield Traub Development in Dallas; John Q. Hammons Industries in Springfield, Mo.; Phelps Program Management in Denver; and TVS in Atlanta.
A blue-ribbon committee studying the issue this year recommended that the city's portion of any hotel project be funded by selling revenue bonds, which don't use taxpayer funds to repay debt. The bonds instead would use hotel profits and a share of the hotel-motel tax.
By Anna M. Tinsley and Max B. Baker
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(c) 2003, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.