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Aston Development Eyeing Waco, Texas for 120-room Hotel Indigo

By Mike Copeland, Waco Tribune-Herald, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 14, 2007 - A Central Texas development group hopes to put a 120-room Hotel Indigo near downtown Waco -- one of several projects brewing in or near the central city, sources say.

Those ventures include breathing life into an old Austin Avenue building; placing a day spa near RiverSquare Center; and building a new Staybridge Suites hotel near Taco Bueno in South Waco.

Kenny Bhakta, spokesman for Temple-based Aston Development, confirmed he wants to place an upscale Hotel Indigo on land bounded by Webster and Clay avenues and Second and Third streets. A vacant church building on that land would be demolished.

Hotel Indigo properties feature such amenities as murals in the rooms, hardwood floors and spacious bathrooms.

The Hotel Indigo brand is part of InterContinental Hotels Group, which includes Holiday Inn, Staybridge and Candlewood Suites. The company Web site shows most Hotel Indigo hotels locating in larger cities such as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dallas.

"But we think Waco is just about ready for some new rooms, and we think a Hotel Indigo would be a good fit near downtown and Baylor University," Bhakta said.

He described Hotel Indigo as an "upscale brand," but said he believes it would be affordable for many conventioneers and for interstate traffic bound for Baylor or downtown destinations. He said the rate for an individual would run about $120 a night.

He said he already has approval from InterContinental to place a Hotel Indigo property on his land. He said the project remains in the planning stage, and he does not yet have a date for beginning work.

The 195-room Waco Hilton remains in the midst of a $17 million upgrade. General manager Gerry Szczepanski said he has heard informally about plans for a Hotel Indigo.

"I don't think it will have much of an impact on us, to be honest with you," Szczepanski said. "It's a different brand, and there are people with loyalty to the Hilton brand." Liz Taylor, who directs the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, said: "That's a lot more rooms to absorb. But I'm assuming they will do a market study, and if they think it will work, they will build.

It may be a little high-end for some of our convention groups. But that's not to say it wouldn't be beneficial to the entire marketplace." City Manager Larry Groth said it helps Waco to have a variety of room rates to offer tourists and business and convention travelers. He would welcome a Hotel Indigo to Waco, he said.

Bhakta said he is building a Holiday Inn in Temple and has erected a Holiday Inn and a Candlewood Suites in Killeen.

The plan for a Hotel Indigo is only one of several projects taking shape in downtown Waco: nBrothers Shane and Cody Turner, both Baylor University graduates, have bought the long-vacant building at 705-707 Austin Ave. and will remodel it into retail space on the first floor and loft apartments on the second floor, Shane Turner said.

"That is an artsy district that could make for a nice little neighborhood," said Turner, referring to the building's proximity to the Palladium, which hosts banquets and other events; the Waco Hippodrome Theater; and the Green Room Grille.

"We're pouring a slab, and will install a new roof and new floors.

Basically, it will be a brand new building, but we will save as much of the original theme as we can," said Turner, adding his research indicates the structure dates back to 1919.

Sisters Erin Owen of Waco and Traci Gerner of Houston have bought land at Third Street and Mary Avenue, behind RiverSquare Center, where they hope to place a day spa.

City planning director Bill Falco said the city has granted a zoning change that the sisters would need to proceed.

"It seemed like that area is really starting to develop, and we are looking into the possibility of a day spa," Gerner said. "We're not in a really big hurry. We're just trying to get some plans worked out." Nalin Patel has bought a 2.2-acre site between South Fifth and South Sixth streets, near Taco Bueno, where he will build a 90-unit Staybridge Suites limited-service hotel.

Three vacant homes have been demolished to make room for the hotel in a land deal brokered by real estate agent Jon Spelman.

Patel's project and others play a part in what Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce officials believe will be an era of unprecedented development downtown and along Lake Brazos.

"Every piece of investment that happens in the downtown area contributes to our goal of having $1 billion invested downtown in the next decade," said Chris McGowan, the chamber's director of urban development. He organized a summit held Nov. 15 at the Palladium, where groups with a stake in downtown's future formed an informal entity called the Partnership for Downtown Waco.

Other projects chasing that $1 billion goal include the $60 million Waco Town Square development that a Sugar Land group has proposed. It includes retail, restaurants, lofts and student housing near City Hall.

Also on the drawing board are the $17 million construction of a new convention center; the $12 million conversion of the old Waco High into affordable apartments; and construction of the $4.2 million chamber headquarters.

Recently, developer Rick Sheldon, originally from San Antonio and now living in Waco, announced his billion-dollar vision for Lake Brazos that included a domed stadium for Baylor University, a stylish bridge over the lake, restaurants, a marina and a 200-to-400 room resort hotel.

Sheldon said he would have no comment on plans by Aston Development to place a Hotel Indigo near downtown.

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To see more of the Waco Tribune-Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.wacotrib.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, Waco Tribune-Herald, Texas

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