News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Leon Stafford, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 6, 2003 - Sometimes redevelopment dreams do come true in downtown Atlanta.
When the Omni Hotel at CNN Center formally opens its new 28-story tower Monday, it will be the first step toward the long-awaited redevelopment of the eastern edge of Atlanta's downtown convention and entertainment district.
The hotel's 600-room addition will be followed in April by the opening of a reconstructed eastern plaza for the Georgia World Congress Center. The $3.8 million project will create green space, benches and a walking plaza between the Omni and Centennial Olympic Park, said Jim McAuliffe, a partner at Culpepper, McAuliffe and Meaders, a consultant on the plaza project and architect of the new hotel tower.
Capping the redevelopment in June will be the completion of a new, renovated four-lane Andrew Young International Boulevard. The road, which runs between the Omni and its addition as well as Philips Arena and the GWCC, replaces the old one, which had dips because it was not built up to grade, McAuliffe said.
"Completion of this project will be great," said Katy Pando, a spokeswoman for the GWCC. "It's really going to be a design with pedestrians and vehicles in mind."
The redevelopment comes at a critical time for Atlanta's convention and hotel community. For the past three years, the convention business here and nationally has been struggling because of the drop-off in trade shows.
At the same time, competition for those shows has increased as more and bigger centers have opened. Making access to convention facilities and hotels easy and attractive is crucial to bringing and retaining meeting business here, industry executives say.
That became readily apparent with a McKinsey & Co. study commissioned by the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau. Released earlier this year, the report revealed that the city has lost some of its "destination appeal," ranking low in security/crime, cleanliness and restaurants.
Conversely, the city did well in convenience to local and air transportation, travel costs, lodging and attractiveness of the convention center -- marks convention officials hope the redevelopment will help them keep up.
The reworking of International Boulevard also will help ACVB efforts to clean up the street from the interstate to the convention center. The project has been a priority of the group because it is the first road many conventioneers and tourists see when they arrive downtown.
"We want that first impression to be a good impression," said Spurgeon Richardson, president and chief executive officer of the ACVB.
One of the major challenges of the project has been building the plaza and new road over commercial rail lines that run at least 23 feet below the buildings. Crews had to be careful when moving fiber-optic cables and had to follow guidelines set by the railroad in building supports for International Boulevard and the plaza, including leaving enough space for trains to pass under, McAuliffe said.
The Congress Center, built in 1976, was originally to include an eastern pedestrian plaza built above the railroad tracks, Pando said. But funding shortfalls put that plan on the back burner for decades.
"That plaza wasn't built out," Pando said. "So there was always a hole where you could see the railroad underneath.
"The idea is to go back and fulfill the original intent."
Although the development of the area will be more aesthetically pleasing, it will not offer any new amenities to make it a draw, developers say. Tight budgets mean that the plaza's main focus will be to make the area more pedestrian friendly.
Yet in one small gesture toward adding amenities, Morsels, a coffee shop in the new Omni building that opens onto the plaza, will be allowed to place tables and chairs outside its store, McAuliffe said.
The new Omni tower also is expected to give the area a boost, bringing the total number of rooms within a stone's throw of the Congress Center to more than 1,000 rooms. The hotel has set an occupancy target of 65 percent its first year, a lofty goal given the doldrums the industry has been in over the past few years.
To capitalize on its proximity, the new tower is designed so that the entrance to the ballroom on its lower level opens up to the eastern plaza and the Congress Center, said Stephanie Orr, the Omni's director of marketing. The hope is that this feature, coupled with the additional rooms, will help make the hotel more attractive to meetings and convention planners.
"As a hotel, we wouldn't have been able to land a big group here," she said. "We didn't have enough rooms or function space."
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(c) 2003, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. TWX,