|By Rob Robertson, The Commercial Appeal,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jun. 9, 2006 - The property that has been an America's Best Inn & Suites on the corner of Union and McLean in Midtown is undergoing a conversion to a more upscale property.
The 94,000-square-foot, eight-story hotel and adjoining two-level garage was sold for $2.9 million last month to a private investment group that is converting the property to an Artisan Hotel, a Las Vegas-based boutique hotel franchise.
Jonathan Barrera, the hotel's new general manager, said the hotel will see significant upgrades.
"Ultimately we're here to establish a classy hotel that we think will fit in very nicely," Barrera said. "We hope to appeal to working professionals and other visitors looking for a nice place to stay in the Midtown area. Right now there's nothing like that here."
When completed, the new look will echo the Artisan Hotel in Las Vegas.
Work on the lobby is nearly complete, featuring dark wood accents, marble tile floors, small chandeliers and higher grade of furniture.
Eventually the lobby will be packed with sculptures and reproductions of works by famous artists covering the walls and even the ceiling -- a fair recreation of the original Artisan in Las Vegas, albeit on a smaller scale.
The hotel has 173 rooms, but that number will shrink as many of the rooms are converted to suites, Barrera said. The final count should be around 100 rooms when work is completed, probably in October.
I don't consider what we're doing as construction; it's more like redecorating," Barrera said. "It's a nice property -- it just hasn't been maintained in a long time."
The hotel restaurant, which features low-priced Mexican fare, also will get some attention.
"We're negotiating on what to do with the restaurant," Barrera said.
Barrera suggested a more upscale Latin theme could be a possibility.
Once the lobby, bar and restaurant renovations are done, work on the rooms will begin in earnest, Barrera said.
"The work on the rooms is going to go pretty fast," he said. "We'll upgrade the bathrooms and the living areas to a generally higher-quality standard."
The new hotel, like its parent in Las Vegas, will also be entirely smoke-free.
"I know that may be a little unusual in the South," Barrera said, "but I don't think it will be a problem for us."
Barrera said some new jobs have been added while the renovations are going on, and eventually about 15 new hires will be made when all is said and done.
The hotel has a staff of about 25.
Ninette Da Silva, president of The Artisan Hotel and Spa LLC, said Artisan chose Memphis because the market for boutique hotels wasn't crowded.
The only other boutique hotels there are The Peabody and the Madison," Da Silva said.
"We felt like the city could use another one, though ours will be on a smaller scale, of course.
Da Silva added that the Midtown location was especially well-suited for the project.
"I think we found the perfect location," she said. "It's going to be something unlike anything that's already there."
Artisan also has a hotel in El Paso, Texas, and is planning to open a new hotel in Phoenix by the end of the year.
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