|By David Wethe, Fort Worth Star-Telegram,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 6, 2006 - The opening is more than two years away, but the $115 million Omni Fort Worth Hotel has already lined up several retail concepts aimed not only at out-of-towners, but at Cowtowners as well.
It's helping to up the ante in the high-stakes gamble of upscale hotels in downtown Fort Worth.
Officials for Irving-based Omni Hotels say they will have a Bob's Steak & Chop House, a Starbucks coffee shop, an upscale wine bar, another yet-to-be-named restaurant, a sports lounge, a spa and a gift shop that might sell items related to the Kimbell Art Museum.
And that's in addition to what's already announced, including 608 guest rooms, 97 condominiums, a multilevel parking garage and 48,000 square feet of meeting space.
The privately owned hotel company, with 40 properties in North America, has also set up its own advisory board that will weigh in on everything from the volume of music in the lobby to scents in the restrooms.
Members of the board include officials from Apple iTunes, the Kimbell, The Juilliard School, Whole Foods Market, Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa and the National Cotton Council.
They plan to meet quarterly, with the first get-together set for this month at Omni's Los Angeles property, said Stephen Rosenstock, senior vice president of brand standards and business development.
The board's suggestions will be used on all of Omni's hotels, but its Fort Worth property will benefit greatly because it has yet to be built, Rosenstock said.
The hotel will break ground in August. It will be across Houston Street from the Fort Worth Convention Center, where there are now parking lots.
Many of the retail concepts being jammed into the hotel's 12-foot-tall, 7,000-square-foot lobby will open up at street level, making them more accessible for those outside the hotel.
"We want the lobby of Omni Fort Worth to just be the living room of downtown," Rosenstock said.
The 150-seat Bob's steakhouse will be operated by Omni, said Bill Lenox, owner of the Bob's in Plano.
Lenox, who owns the rights to the restaurant name, sold Omni the licensing rights for the name and menu. He declined to disclose the price but said he will receive a small share of the sales each year.
The restaurant, which will overlook the Fort Worth Water Gardens, will feature all the same meats and ingredients that the other Bob's restaurants offer, Lenox said.
"I expect it to be a prime location inside a terrific hotel," he said. "I expect it to draw from the local Fort Worth audience as well as the traveling business partner."
Bob Jameson, general manager of the competing Renaissance Worthington Hotel in Sundance Square, said he's not surprised by most of Omni's new offerings.
"I would think they're going to have to create some of their own entertainment venues," said Jameson, whose 504-room hotel sits at the opposite end of downtown. "It will be a little removed from everything that's in Sundance Square. It might be necessary for them to create a little more activity in their own building until the south end of downtown develops a little bit more."
Bharath Josiam, associate professor of hospitality management at the University of North Texas, said Omni is "absolutely on the right track" with its offerings.
"If your hotel is only a bed to stay in, then all it's going to attract is those people who are looking for a bed," he said. "But if you want to charge $200 or $300 for a room, then you have to provide more than just a box to stay in."
Josiam points to the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center on Lake Grapevine as a good example of a hotel generating strong revenue in areas other than lodging, such as its restaurants.
But Rosenstock is careful not to draw too many comparisons to the Texan. "It's going to have a Fort Worth feel, but not to the point where it's overthemed," he said.
David Wethe, (817) 685-3803 firstname.lastname@example.org
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