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Columbus, Georgia's Hawthorn Suites Sustained Knockout Blow From Tornado;
To Be Torn Down and Replaced with a 82 suite Hyatt Place

 
By Tony Adams, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Mar. 12, 2007 - One of Columbus' higher-end hotels sustained a knockout blow from the March 1 tornado, suffering extreme roof and water damage -- enough that it will be torn down to the ground.

But the 82-room Hawthorn Suites at 2974 North Lake Parkway isn't necessarily down for good. In its place will be built an 82-suite Hyatt Place, a full-service property that could be ready within a year, Pam Hudson, Hawthorn Suites' director of sales, said Friday.

"It was that bad," Hudson said of the storm that ripped half the roof off the hotel, which was rebranded from AmeriSuites to Hawthorn Suites Jan. 2.

"The fifth floor and what was left of the fifth floor that wasn't sucked out (by the tornado) collapsed to the fourth," she said. "The fourth floor is where our sprinkler system was, and the force of all of that burst the pipes and then tons and tons and tons and tons and tons and tons of water just completely flooded that property. It was a Poseidon Adventure thing."

The 20 employees at the hotel also are gone, she said, now drawing unemployment checks and looking for other work. But, fortunately, no one was hurt by the fierce twister that roared through the commercial area.

"We were very, very lucky," Hudson said.

Also lucky were the 88-room Holiday Express Inn & Suites, 7336 Bear Lane, which had its grand opening less than three weeks before the storm hit, as well as the nearby Hampton Inn North. Both were back in business last week after closing briefly due to minor damage and lack of electricity.

"We only had minor cosmetic damage, and it's only on the outside," said Rebecca Henry, assistant general manager of the Holiday Inn property. "The power came back on Saturday night (March 3), but we had to wait and get approval from Holiday Inn for us to reopen."

The Ramada Inn being constructed nearby was raked by the tornado's winds, suffering enough damage that its completion date could be delayed. An attempt to get an update from Ramada's corporate office was unsuccessful Friday.

"They were still very much in construction mode, but they're going to have to start over to a large degree there," said Peter Bowden, president and CEO of the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The twisted roofs, broken windows and flooded rooms come with the Columbus market entering its busy season. Family and military reunions are already taking place, Bowden said, while major youth soccer tournaments are scheduled in late May and early June.

The Georgia Missionary Baptist Conference meets here at the end of this month, with Hudson noting the group had reserved 60 rooms with Hawthorn Suites. This summer there also are major Jehovah's Witness conferences, which will fill most of the city's rooms.

"The good news is we didn't lose a lot of properties," Bowden said. "The bad news is we did lose one of the newer ones. That's going to create some need in the market. But (the hotels) have got a network of referrals in place, so overall the visitor won't be inconvenienced."

Help also is on the way in the form of new hotels either preparing to open, getting ready to break ground or in the planning stages.

Several hundred rooms will be added in the coming year to 18 months. They include:

Staybridge Suites: 83 extended-stay suites, opening soon at the corner of Whittlesey and Whitesville roads.

Homewood Suites by Hilton: 91 suites on Whittlesey Boulevard, with groundbreaking expected soon.

Springhill Suites: 89-unit Marriott property just beginning construction on Whittlesey Boulevard adjacent to the Residence Inn by Marriott. Should open by the end of this year.

TownPlace Suites: 86 units, the Marriott property should begin construction this year near the Fairfield Inn & Suites off Armour Road. It should open in the first half of 2008.

More lodging is planned for 3669 Victory Drive on the site where the The Ponderosa Motel once stood. Though not ready to announce the brand yet, it will be a four-story, 122-room extended-stay property, said David Johnson, associate broker with Jordan Hart Commercial Services, the firm that marketed the property.

The 4.4-acre site will include a 1-acre parcel that could have a sit-down restaurant, Johnson said. The hotel deal should close within 60 to 90 days, he said.

Here are the travel and tourism numbers for Columbus:

Visitors: 961,327 in fiscal year 2006, down from 965,472 in 2005

Spending: $296 million in 2006, up from $274 million the year before

Hotels: There are 36 of them in the city, with about 3,440 rooms

Jobs: About 6,000 people are employed in the hospitality sector. That includes hotels, restaurants and stores that sell goods to travelers and tourists

Source: Columbus State University

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Copyright (c) 2007, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.

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