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Hotel Project In the City of Westerville, Ohio Gains Noble
 Investment Group as a Partner for the Development
 of a 250-room Full Service Hotel

By Mike Pramik, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

Apr. 7, 2006 - Plans for a full-service hotel and conference center at Westerville's Altair development have taken a big step forward with the involvement of a national hotel builder.

Altair developer Jerome G. Solove has signed a memo of understanding with the city of Westerville and with Noble Investment Group of Atlanta to plan a 250-room hotel with an events center near the intersection of Polaris Parkway and Cleveland Avenue.

Westerville, Solove and Noble Investment each will contribute up to $50,000 toward site-plan development, which will take place during the next three months. The prep work also will include conducting a market-feasibility study, creating design concepts and devising the project's financial structure.

The agreement is "the continuance of a very deliberate process to deliver Altair," Solove said. "It is a significant opportunity for the city of Westerville."

Noble Investment says it has developed and acquired more than $1.4 billion in hospitality assets since 1979. It operates more than 5,000 hotel rooms that include more than 600,000 square feet of meeting space. An affiliated company runs 7,000 hotel rooms.

Officials from Noble Investment were not available for comment yesterday.

Solove said Noble Investment has a "strong track record in developing this type of facility."

Westerville City Manager David Lindimore said he is excited about the scope of the project, which he said is in the $40 million range. He thinks the hotel would benefit businesses and the community.

"It's obviously going to provide a service inside the city that doesn't exist today."

It would rival the planned Hilton at Polaris, which was announced in June. Its developers say they'll break ground this June.

One of the Hilton's developers said he doesn't think the Altair site will work because it lacks highway visibility.

"We think they're making a huge mistake," said Matt Studer, of Platinum Ridge Properties. "Maybe once they see ours coming out of the ground they'll back off."

But Solove thinks his project will transform Altair, which covers 165 acres and is expected to include offices, the hotel and retail developments. Opus North is building a 93,000-square-foot speculative office building at Altair. Two companies have buildings there: ABB Inc. and Liebert Corp.

Altair is part of a bigger development called Westar Center of Business, a 1,000-acre project that includes several office buildings, an urgent-care center and the Westerville Community Center.

"I have no doubt the environment has been created for the inclusion of these mixeduse elements (at Altair)," Solove said. "No doubt at all."

Eric Belfrage, a local hotel analyst with Integra Realty Resources, said full-service, suburban hotels from Dublin to Easton performed well last year, with better than 70 percent occupancy and average daily-room rates of $111. So the appetite is there.

Is there enough demand for two Hiltons and the Altair hotel in that part of the city?

"I don't know," Belfrage said. "If so, I think the pain probably would be felt at the Crosswoods hotels, just because the Polaris and Easton markets are where everybody wants to be."

The Altair hotel is not a done deal. The developers still would have to go through an approval process with the city before they could break ground.

"I think the study is more about, 'Is there support to take that next step?' " Lindimore said. "It's a pretty significant investment."

mpramik@dispatch.com

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

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