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ESuites Hotels Planning a $35 million Tech-heavy 224 suite Hotel Near Raleigh-Durham International Airport

By Jack Hagel, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Sep. 11, 2007 - A Florida company bent on banking billions with high-tech hotels is taking aim at the Triangle.

ESuites Hotels plans a $35 million Morrisville hotel targeted at tech-savvy business travelers who fly in and out of the Research Triangle Park area each day.

The eight-story hotel, to employ about 60 people, is among the first of four eSuites. Others are planned in Florida and Arizona. The company hopes to grow to 300 hotels within 10 years.

The chain joins the field of proposed Triangle hotels emphasizing unique design and personalized services -- a tack for standing out in a crowded hospitality landscape.

Several independent boutique hotels are planned in the region. And big chains are offering "lifestyle" hotels with lots of amenities: Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide plans two Aloft hotels in the Triangle. And InterContinental Hotels Group, the parent of Holiday Inn, plans to plant its Hotel Indigo flag in Durham.

"We know we're going to have great competition," eSuites founder Jerry Ellenburg said Monday. "And we're up to the task."

His strategy is to offer more technological capabilities than typical business-class hotels in suburban office markets, along with superior amenities. In addition to wireless Internet, which is all but standard in business hotels, each eSuites property will feature:

--Eleven conference rooms with video equipment and computer docking stations.

--A business center outfitted with PCs and Macintosh computers, scanners and copiers.

--A concierge staff that offers tech support and can deliver big print jobs to guest rooms.

--A fitness center that lets guests check e-mail while working out.

--A casual restaurant offering organic food, a deep wine list and locally brewed beer.

--Desktop computers in some rooms or docking stations for those who bring their own. All will have hook-ups for iPods or other MP3 players.

Suites are divided into an office, a bedroom and bathroom and will average 468 square feet -- about 50 percent larger than rooms in many business-class hotels. Rates for the 224 rooms will be about $150 a night, or twice the Wake County average.

Ellenburg has been working on the concept since the late 1990s, when the dot-com boom fueled demand for wired rooms.

He expected to be operating several dozen hotels by now. But the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks slowed his plans.

Six years ago today, Ellenburg was on a flight to New York, where he was to discuss his plan with financiers. His flight was grounded in Charlotte, where he learned of the attacks on a television across from his terminal barstool.

"This is going to hurt hotels," he thought to himself. "And the financial institutions are going to run from this stuff."

Sure enough, his financing fell through.

Travel has since rebounded, fueling a hotel building boom.

ESuites closed on $127 million in financing this spring. It will be used to fund the Morrisville hotel off Airport Boulevard, which Ellenburg hopes to open late next year.

Staff writer Jack Hagel can be reached at (919) 829-8917 or jack.hagel@newsobserver.com.

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To see more of The News & Observer, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.newsobserver.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

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