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Harmony Hospitality Planning a 156-room Embassy Suites Adjacent
 to its Doubletree Hotel in Virginia Beach, Virginia

By Deirdre Fernandes, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Feb. 6, 2007 - VIRGINIA BEACH -- The Doubletree Hotel wants to expand and become the city's convention center headquarters hotel, joining three other companies vying for that title.

Harmony Hospitality of Virginia Beach, which owns the Doubletree Hotel on 19th Street that is next to the convention center, plans to build a 156-room Embassy Suites on the same property.

The two hotels would have a combined 455 rooms, said Page Johnson II, Harmony Hospitality's president.

The seven-story Embassy Suites would be connected to the convention center by an elevated walkway 550 feet away, which the city would pay for, Johnson said. That would be the only proposed city expense for the project.

"We believe in this project," Johnson said. "We want to know that we are the convention center hotel."

The company plans to invest $17.9 million in the Embassy Suites and has already spent $5 million to renovate the Doubletree. It is perhaps the most modest of the four proposals that Virginia Beach is considering.

However, it could be the least expensive for taxpayers.

"I'm a taxpayer in Virginia Beach, and I'm not asking them to take any of my money," Johnson said.

The three other proposals are:

-- Sun Rise Development Company Ltd. of South Korea has proposed a $4 billion resort investment that would include towers up to 40 stories tall, hotels, condominiums, a golf academy and a small amusement park. It is unclear what the city investment would be.

-- Armada Hoffler wants to build a $215 million hotel and entertainment center at the former Dome site, with a monorail connection to the convention center five blocks away. The company is asking the city to spend about

$65 million on the monorail and infrastructure.

-- Hyatt Corp. and Garfield Traub Development, a Dallas-based company, will present their plan for a 400-room, 18-story hotel next to the convention center to the City Council tonight. Hyatt wants to build the hotel on city-owned property and is asking the city for help in financing the hotel.

Councilman John Uhrin, who represents the resort area, said the limited cost to taxpayers is "a positive part" of the Doubletree proposal. However, city officials will have to study whether Doubletree and Embassy Suites will have enough rooms, amenities and allure to bring large groups to the convention center, Uhrin said.

City officials wanted the Doubletree Hotel to be the headquarters hotel at one point, but the previous owner wasn't interested.

Harmony Hospitality bought the hotel in 2005 and had been planning an expansion to take advantage of the new convention center. The proposals from other developers ha ve forced Harmony to announce its own proposal ahead of schedule, said Grey Folkes, a Chesapeake developer and an investor in the project.

Two weeks ago, Armada Hoffler asked the City Council for a six-month study of its proposal. It asked that the city not actively solicit plans from any other developers for a headquarters hotel during that time.

City officials have not formally responded.

-- Reach Deirdre Fernandes at (757) 222-5121 or deirdre.fernandes@pilotonline.com.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

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