|By Tanya Fogg Young, The State, Columbia, S.C.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 20, 2005 - Construction should begin in June on the long-awaited Hilton convention center hotel, months after Greenville developer Bo Aughtry had planned.
It is one of three downtown Columbia hotels planned or under construction.
Aughtry said he had hoped to begin building the 222-room hotel as much as nine months ago to serve the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, which opened in September 2004. He wanted to open the hotel by New Year's Eve of this year.
Now, it looks more like the $30 million facility will open in the last half of 2006.
"I was probably naive and overly optimistic about the timetable going into the process," Aughtry said of the hotel to be built at Park and Senate streets.
Meanwhile, Aughtry -- who also owns the Hampton Inn on Gervais Street in the Vista -- said he plans to block as many as 60 Hampton rooms and 200 Hilton rooms for the convention center up to two years before a scheduled event.
Delays for the convention center hotel started after city leaders decided -- and then abandoned -- plans to use public money for the facility. City Council then sought private developers. Aughtry was chosen from three finalists.
Two companies that worked on the aborted publicly funded effort have sued the city for $2.1 million. City officials say they do not intend to pay Gary Realty Co. and Garfield Traub Development.
With a hotel such as the Hilton planned in Columbia's core, the perception of the city as a meeting and leisure destination will improve, city and hospitality officials said. Major hotel brands resonate with business travelers and meeting planners, officials said.
"The new Hilton is really critical," said Dave Zunker, vice president of sales and marketing for the Columbia Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"A year ago, before we were sure of the Hilton, we couldn't be as promotional. Now we can say it will be within walking distance of the convention center."
Aughtry said he expects to receive final approval of the hotel's site plan and design at a Columbia Design/Development Review Commission meeting in April.
While the hotel's final pricing should be calculated by mid-May, Aughtry said it would likely be close to $30 million. He had estimated costs at between $25 million and $30 million.
In the next 30 to 45 days, Aughtry said, an agreement to bring a Ruth's Chris Steak House to the Hilton should be finalized. The upscale chain's restaurants are prized as major corporate meeting places in metro areas.
Columbia hotel developer Rick Patel also has his eye on capturing some of the convention center hotel business.
Patel plans to build a 112-room hotel in the Palmetto Building, a downtown landmark at Main and Washington streets. Some interior work has begun, and Patel said he would like to open the estimated $15 million hotel in the first quarter of 2006.
Patel, however, is mum on what flag the hotel will fly. "Believe me, it will be a big one -- a national chain," he said.
He said he expects to sign a franchise agreement for the hotel this week. Once done, Patel said he plans to resume talks with the city about repair issues.
The 117-room Inn at USC under construction at Pendleton Street is expected to open May 15, according to Susie VanHuss,executive director of the University Foundations.
Bert Pooserand IMIC Hotels is developing the Inn at USC in cooperation with the USC Development Foundation.
This hotel will not have a brand name and will not be listed on commercial Web sites such as expedia.com.
The foundation and Pooser expect the National Advocacy Center -- across the street from the hotel -- to guarantee to rent at least 80 rooms, four nights a week, for 48 weeks each year.
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