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Developer Robert Capps Re-opens the Former Bus Station in Chapel Hill,
 North Carolina as a 67 room Luxury Hotel, The Franklin

By Lisa Hoppenjans, The Chapel Hill News, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Nov. 12, 2006 - CHAPEL HILL -- When guests check in to the soon-to-be-open Franklin Hotel, they'll come through the 5th Avenue-style revolving door and past the walnut floors and baby grand piano of the lobby bar to the granite-topped front desk.

They'll find rooms with their own doorbells; 32-inch LCD, wall-mounted televisions with more than 145 channels; and XM Satellite Radio pumped through speakers in the ceiling.

And when they curl up in custom-made beds with 740-thread count sheets, they'll be able to choose from a menu of five kinds of pillows on which to lay their heads.

"It's a destination you want to come to and come back to," said Michael Donaldson, the hotel's general manager.

The Franklin Hotel is scheduled to open Dec. 1 at 311 W. Franklin St., bringing luxury to the former bus station property. The 67 rooms, seven of them penthouse suites, will rent from $150 to $850 a night. Many have private balconies.

Local architect Josh Gurlitz, who designed the hotel, said he drew inspiration from hotels in London, New York and San Francisco.

"We wanted to do something that would stand out, but also fit in," Gurlitz said.

In addition to providing high-class amenities for travelers, the hotel hopes to draw in locals looking for a place to take a business client or to gather after work.

The lobby bar, Roberts at the Franklin, will serve light fare, desserts and drinks in cozy chairs by an Italian stone fireplace and on an outdoor patio. The hotel will also have a breakfast-only restaurant, Windows.

"It will be a special experience on Franklin Street," said Melissa Crane, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

The bar's namesake is the hotel's majority owner, Dr. Robert Capps, a Greenville dentist who attended the UNC School of Dentistry.

Capps, grew up in Jacksonville and describes himself as a "country redneck," but his family has a long business history in Chapel Hill.

His parents opened The Shrunken Head in 1971, and later a women's clothing store. The family also owns three hotels across the state, and Capps had long been interested in opening a fourth in Chapel Hill.

"We always wanted to build a small, elite, boutique hotel," Capps said.

He bought the property in 2000 and has been developing plans ever since.

He and his wife, Jane, eyed hotels closely in their travels. They brought back the idea for the doorbells from The Peninsula in Beverly Hills and the pillow menu from a Tahitian hotel. But the 8-foot, "romantic" showers for two in some of the penthouses were Capps' own design, he said.

A recent survey of Orange County visitors suggests that tourists here can afford that kind of luxury. According to Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, the county's average visitor has a household income of $99,300 and spends $1,833 in a two and a half day trip.

"Luxury travel by and large is on the uptick. The economy's good. People are spending money again," she said. "And people especially spend money in Chapel Hill."

Once the hotel opens, Capps said he'd like to cut back a bit on his dental practice and spend more time in Chapel Hill.

"I like servicing people," he said. "I'll come up here a couple days a week and be a bell cap."

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Chapel Hill News, N.C.

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