|By Jeff Swiatek, The Indianapolis
StarMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 16, 2007 - Meet the new $250 million JW Marriott hotel: a sleeker, less boxy version of the uninspiring rectangle that the city chose to serve the expanding Indiana Convention Center.
The redesigned hotel, unveiled Tuesday, will be the largest in the city, with 1,000 rooms and 50 percent more meeting and exhibit space than first planned.
Three smaller hotels with another 568 rooms will be built next to the JW Marriott at West and Washington streets, creating a $325 million hotel cluster with 1,000 indoor parking spots, making the development one of the largest hotel complexes under construction in the United States outside of Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., its developers said.
City officials were enthused over the new look and the developers' commitment to build 1,000 rooms, instead of their preferred 800.
"This hotel has just launched us to the next higher level -- in capacity, in prestige, in return on our investment," Tamara Zahn, president of Indianapolis Downtown Inc., told a few dozen members of the media and others at the announcement.
The city reiterated its pledge to subsidize the project with $48.5 million to help pay for the meeting and parking space, a long connector to the convention center and landscaping. The public investment would be paid back using property tax revenues the project generates.
The bond issue to raise the money for the subsidy could run as high as $66 million, which includes a reserve fund, costs of the bond issue and other charges, said Barbara Lawrence, director of the Indianapolis Bond Bank.
A final project agreement between the city and the developers should be signed shortly, she said.
Developers are REI Real Estate Services of Carmel and White Lodging Services Corp., a Merrillville-based hotel developer that manages nearly a dozen hotels in Indianapolis, including the current largest, the 615-room Marriott Hotel Downtown.
The city is likely to receive equity in the project, so it would share in the profits or the proceeds from any sale of the property, said Bruce White, chairman of White Lodging.
The city hired Indianapolis architect Jonathan Hess, who designed the Conrad Hotel, to consult on the redesign of the JW Marriott.
The 29-story tower features a glass-and-precast exterior with stone facing on the lower level. About 24 condominiums will be built on the top four floors. Approximately 200 of the hotel rooms will be furnished in a more upscale style and will cater to corporate travelers, with separate elevators from the rest of the tower, said Michael Wells, president of REI.
Wells said he and others on the development team overcame their reluctance to build 1,000 rooms by studying the expanding market for large conventions. They decided to boost the ballroom and exhibit space they planned to build, which should make it easier to sell more rooms, Wells said.
The glass-front main ballroom will overlook left field at Victory Field and be close enough for guests to watch ballgames, Wells said.
Mayor Bart Peterson's administration last year chose the REI and White Lodging partnership for the hotel, which also is a key part of the city's bid to host the 2011 Super Bowl. The National Football League requires a large number of hotel rooms near the host stadium.
The JW Marriott project beat out a competing finalist, a soaring InterContinental Hotel that was proposed on Pan Am Plaza.
"This hotel is the key to the success of our phase five expansion of the convention center," which is being doubled in size to host bigger conventions, said Bob Bedell, president of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association. "The convention center expansion would not be successful without this hotel."
The 10-acre site currently is home to Courtyard by Marriott, which will be gutted and partially demolished. White Lodging bought the site about 20 years ago.
The four hotels will employ more than 1,000 people when opened. About 450 construction jobs will be created during the more than two-year construction period that starts this fall.
JW MARRIOTT HOTEL: The project is a cluster of four hotels that include:
--JW Marriott hotel, 1,000 rooms and about 24 condominiums.
--Courtyard by Marriott, 250 rooms.
--Fairfield Inn & Suites, 168 rooms.
--SpringHill Suites, 150 rooms.
--110,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space.
--1,000 underground parking spots.
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