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American Property Management Corp. Acquires the 35-year-old Wyndham Albuquerque Airport Hotel
 (Originally the Airport Marina and later the Amfac); Investing $6.5 million
 in Conversion to Sheraton Brand

By Richard Metcalf, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Mar. 12, 2007 - Nearly every one of the Wyndham Hotel's 122 employees was present recently when new owner Michael Gallegos outlined plans for the 15-story hotel next to the airport.

"Every time a property sells, you're nervous," said Gerald Martinez, who has worked at the hotel since before it opened in 1972.

"They put us at ease within the first five minutes," he said. "They were friendly in their greetings -- down-to-earth people."

General manager Cynthia Fresquez, who has worked at the hotel for nine years, recalled, "There were repeated standing ovations."

Gallegos' American Property Management Corp., which recently closed on its purchase, will invest $6.5 million in a top-to-bottom renovation of the 35-year-old hotel. The last significant renovation was in 1996.

"It's long overdue," Gallegos said. "We plan to upgrade it to a four-star hotel."

When the renovation is completed a year from now, the hotel will be switched to the Sheraton brand name. In the meantime, it will remain a Wyndham.

Gallegos, a New Mexico native, had based American Property in Albuquerque until a move to San Diego in 2000. The company has built up its presence in Albuquerque since then.

When he talked about his plans for the 276-room hotel at the staff meeting last month, Gallegos said, "They were glad New Mexicans were taking it over."

Airport Marina

The Fred Harvey Co. built the 15-story hotel, then called Airport Marina Hotel, for $6 million at 2910 Yale SE in 1972.

The name was changed to The Amfac in 1980. In 1992, the hotel went through a major renovation and became the Fred Harvey Best Western.

The hotel became the Wyndham after another renovation in 1996.

"I remember every turn of this hotel," said Gallegos, who added that he attempted unsuccessfully to buy the property on two occasions over the past decade or so.

The most recent attempt in late 2005 stalled when the owner, Maryland-based MeriStar Hospitality Corp., was acquired by The Blackstone Group.

A privately held investment giant based in New York, Blackstone was willing to sell because the Wyndham property didn't fit into its portfolio, Gallegos said.

The hotel sits on city-owned land as part of the Albuquerque International Sunport campus. As a result, the city has a small stake in whatever hotel operates at the site.

In return for use of the city land, the hotel operator pays a portion of its revenue -- roughly 5 percent -- to the city.

Generating buzz

"One of the things that excites us is Michael (Gallegos) wants to turn this into a Sheraton," said Jack Scherer of the city's Aviation Department. "Our revenues will jump significantly just from that."

A Sheraton will basically charge higher prices and thus generate more money for the city's share.

An upgraded Sheraton at the gateway to the Sunport will also make a bigger impression on travelers, Scherer said.

"It's going to be a jewel," he said. "When you walk into a classy hotel, you know it."

The Wyndham had an average occupancy of 82 percent in 2006, making it one of the top-performing hotels in the metro, according to Fresquez.

Location within walking distance of the Sunport terminal is the main reason for the high occupancy.

Another reason is the building's high profile. At 15 stories and situated atop a hill, the Wyndham can be seen from all over the metro.

American Property's purchase and planned upgrade will involve an investment of more than $31 million in the property, Gallegos said.

Schedule

The renovations won't get started until November, allowing time for the design and approval of plans. Completion is tentatively set for March 2008.

"It's exciting because this is a good building but it's getting worn out," said Martinez, manager of the laundry department. "It's losing its luster."

Above and beyond the renovations, Gallegos has other long-range ideas to improve the 10-acre site.

The hotel has about 12,500 square feet of meeting space, which Gallegos would like to at least double in the future. The expansion would likely use ground now occupied by two tennis courts.

Four acres of the site is vacant land that could accommodate another hotel in the future, Gallegos said.

For now, however, he emphasized, "Our first priority is the hotel upgrade."

American Property has become a major independent hotel operator since moving to San Diego.

"Last year, we acquired over $500 million in hotels, including our first international property," Gallegos said. "This year, we plan $1 billion in acquisitions."

Duke City activity

The company has under way a $20 million renovation and expansion of the 312-room Park Plaza at Carlisle NE and Interstate 40.

The centerpiece of the Park Plaza project is an indoor water park and a two-person FlowRider, a water attraction in which the rider uses a board.

Announced last September, construction of the water park is running behind schedule; it is now expected to open sometime around the end of the year.

"There are a lot of moving parts to this, even though there's not a lot of action on the ground yet," said Noah Alpern, American Property's special projects manager.

"The double FlowRider is being manufactured as we speak -- they custom build each one," he said.

A $6 million renovation is also under way of the 16-story Doubletree Hotel in Downtown, which American Property purchased in late 2005.

The renovation has focused on improvements to the 295 guest rooms. Gallegos said, "The public space will start ramping up here shortly."

American Property hired Graham Downes, a celebrity architect in California, to design the Doubletree's 80,000 square feet of public space in the progressive minimalist style. That interior face lift is expected to be completed in May. "It has a 'wow' factor," Gallegos said about the design.

In other activity in the Duke City, American Property is the hospitality player in a development team that has proposed a new arena and mixed-use project in Downtown.

Headed by Dallas-based Garfield Traub Development, the team's proposal includes a 420-room hotel. "This hotel is significant for what it will do with bringing large conventions to Albuquerque," Gallegos said.

"We think we're playing a very significant role in raising Albuquerque to a new level," he said. "Even though we've become an international company, we haven't forgotten our roots."

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Copyright (c) 2007, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

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