|By Christopher Calnan, The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 9, 2005 - The Virginia real estate investment trust buying the Hilton Jacksonville Riverfront, the city's fourth-largest hotel, said Monday it plans to convert the hotel to a Crowne Plaza Hotel next year.
Bill Zaiser, chief financial officer of Williamsburg, Va.-based MHI Hospitality Corp., said the company will switch to a Crowne Plaza when its Hilton license expires at the end of March 2006.
Since Hilton already operates several other hotels in the area under different brand names such as Doubletree, MHI decided to go with a different brand for Jacksonville, Zaiser said.
"We think it's going to be good because Crowne Plaza will be a new brand to the downtown area," he said. "It's the upper end of Holiday Inn brands."
Crowne Plaza is owned by InterContinental Hotels Group PLC, which also owns Holiday Inn Hotels, Candlewood Suites and other brands. Ninety-four Crowne Plazas operate in the United States.
Jennifer MacPhee, spokeswoman for the Jacksonville & the Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the re-flagging of the Southbank hotel will be good for Jacksonville.
"Crowne Plaza is respected and is still a great selling point for us Ñ especially along the Riverwalk," she said.
MHI plans to complete $3 million in renovations on the hotel from September to April 2006. The hotel will remain open during renovations and be re-flagged a Crowne Plaza on April 1 and maintain the same staffing level of about 180 employees.
Jeff Weinstein, editor in chief of Hotels magazine, said Crowne Plaza isn't as well known as Hilton, but it's expanding.
"Hilton certainly has a lot more cache to its name, it has recognition," he said. "But Intercontinental is working hard to grow the brand."
In May, MHI said it was buying the 292-room hotel on the Southbank for $22 million. The deal was finalized July 22, Zaiser said.
MHI bought the hotel from the AFL-CIO Building Investment Trust, which MHI's predecessor company went into partnership with when the AFL-CIO bought the property in 1996. MHI Hospitality, organized in August 2004, owns six other hotels, none in Florida. The closest is the Hilton Savannah DeSoto in Savannah, Ga.
The Hilton deal was the second sale of a major downtown Jacksonville hotel this year.
In March, two companies bought the 966-room Adam's Mark, Jacksonville's largest hotel. The Northbank hotel was then re-flagged the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront.
After the Hyatt Regency, the Omni Jacksonville is the next-largest hotel in Jacksonville with 354 rooms, followed by the Radisson Riverwalk Hotel, which has 322 rooms.
The Hilton Jacksonville hotel opened in the 1960's as The Sheraton Jacksonville.
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