|By Don Dodson, The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, Ill.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 14, 2005 - CHAMPAIGN -- Fox/Atkins Development has chosen a management group to operate the new hotel on St. Mary's Road across from the University of Illinois Assembly Hall.
The West Paces Hotel Group, based in Atlanta, has been selected to operate the 120-room hotel and an adjacent restaurant, developer Peter Fox said.
West Paces also could end up being chosen by the UI to operate an adjoining 36,000-square-foot conference center, although no decision has been made at this point.
The company, which is operated by former executives of the Ritz-Carlton chain, manages several hotels, including a 247-room hotel and conference center at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. West Paces also operates an inn in Sedona, Ariz., and soon plans to manage a 130-room hotel in Augusta, Ga.
"We're very excited about coming to Champaign," said John Russell, vice president of conference center hotels for West Paces. "Right now we have a hotel at Auburn University, and we have really enjoyed the hotel-university relationship that's developed."
Groundbreaking for the five-story hotel in Champaign is slated for this fall, Fox said. The hotel, which has not yet been named, would include two VIP suites on its top floor.
Russell said the hotel will be closely associated with the university, but won't carry a franchise name.
"There's no value in putting a name brand on the hotel," Russell said, adding that the university will be its brand. "It can be operated as an independent hotel and be quite successful."
The associated restaurant will be built at the southeast corner of First Street and St. Mary's Road and feature about 7,700 square feet.
Russell said the restaurant will have about 200 seats and "an appropriate bar for the market."
"The market is casual and family-oriented, and the product and pricing will be aimed at that," he said. "It's not going to be Italian or ethnic. It'll be American cuisine steaks and chops and more typical American fare."
Russell said the hotel and restaurant will likely employ 30 to 40 people each, and the conference center will likely hire another 20 to 30 on a regular basis.
Russell called the restaurant "a critical element of the project."
Although it will be an amenity for hotel guests, it will need patronage from the Champaign-Urbana community to be successful, he said.
That's one reason the restaurant needs to be designed so that it feels like it's freestanding, he added.
The hotel will extend southward from the restaurant, and the conference center will be to the east, said Clark Wise, the UI's director of capital administration and development.
Preliminary plans for the conference center call for a ballroom seating 470, a junior ballroom accommodating 230, a large conference room for 150, two medium conference rooms for 70 each and three small conference rooms for 40 each.
The center could also have four breakout rooms holding 20 each and a board room with capacity for 30.
"The conference center could cost as much as $9 million, depending on layout and final programming," Wise said. The decision to move ahead with the project lies with the chancellor and president, he added.
"I think it's high on the current list of things they're thinking through," Fox said.
"I'm hopeful we'll hear something over the next month or so."
West Paces, which has agreed to a five-year management contract, was selected by a team made up of representatives from Fox/Atkins Development, the hospitality industry and the UI.
Three operators submitted proposals, and the field was later narrowed to two: Compass-FLIK and West Paces.
West Paces was chosen after finalists were asked to address several factors, including commitment to quality and assumption of risk relating to the project.
Many on the West Paces senior leadership team are former Ritz-Carlton executives.
Horst Schulze, the president of West Paces, was president and chief operating officer of Ritz-Carlton from 1988 to 2001 and vice chairman from 2001 to 2002.
June Henton, dean of Auburn University's College of Human Sciences, said Auburn has been pleased with West Paces' management of the hotel and conference center there.
"It's gone great," Henton said. "The management team here has been outstanding. They've taken to the college environment. They've contributed so much to the community, and they're part of our teaching team (in the hotel and restaurant management program)."
The hotel at Auburn opened in 1988 and was managed by a private developer until 2000.
In 2003, West Paces took over management responsibilities for the hotel and conference center.
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