|Nancy Sarnoff, Houston
ChronicleMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 1, 2007 - An Atlanta hospitality firm is betting $100 million that it can turn the ailing Del Lago Resort on Lake Conroe into a destination hotel and conference center.
An affiliate of the French Quarter Group recently bought the 175-acre property, which had fallen into disrepair in the years since it opened in the mid-1980s.
"We believe this was an opportunity to take a property which was badly neglected and give it the attention it needs," said Ronnie Ben-Zur, founder and CEO of the French Quarter Group, which is relocating here. This is the company's first Houston-area project.
Before the property reopens with a new name next summer, its guest rooms will be renovated with larger bathrooms, flat-screen TVs and other modern amenities. All 445 rooms will be suites.
A sushi bar and gourmet restaurant are planned, along with 70,000 square feet of meeting facilities.
The swimming area will be expanded to include two adult pools, three children's pools, hot tubs and a "lazy river."
A 30,000-square-foot fitness center and spa will offer Turkish massages and therapeutic saltwater pools.
The goal is to upgrade the property into a contemporary resort similar to the Hyatt Hill Country or Hyatt Lost Pines, said hotel consultant John Keeling, who worked on the project.
Over the next month, the owners are having public liquidation sales of the resort's old furnishings.
They will also get a boost from the city of Conroe and Montgomery County, which agreed to abate the taxes for the next 10 years.
The city also designated the property as part of a tax reinvestment zone, which freezes its taxable value, and any market value increases will be 100 percent abated.
Keeling said other independent resorts of this scale have been successful, but the Conroe project is not going to be a "slam-dunk."
"I think they have to do everything right," he said.
"But we're a city of 4 million people, and we're driving away to Austin and San Antonio.
"If you can drive to Lake Conroe, why not do it?"
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