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Dallas' Stoneleigh Hotel Expects its Historic Appeal to Provide Edge over
 Competitors such as the New Ritz-Carlton Dallas and W Dallas Victory
By Suzanne Marta, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Feb. 26, 2008 - The Stoneleigh Hotel is about to recapture its 1923 glamour and, operators hope, its share of the city's luxury travel market.

After closing for nearly 14 months for a $36 million renovation, the onetime hot spot at 2927 Maple Ave. in Oak Lawn will reopen Monday with a mix of historic charm and modern energy, 170 guest rooms, a sleek new bar and restaurant, and a spa.

The historic penthouse won't open until May, though, and a pool, courtyard and condo building won't be ready until spring of next year.

The repositioning of the hotel into a stylish boutique has been in the works for years, including a plan that was dropped after the 9/11 attacks.

The 11-story hotel was badly in need of renovation and increasingly couldn't compete as other properties entered the market, said Jud Pankey, chief executive of Prescott Realty Group, which owns the hotel with Apollo Real Estate Advisors.

Room rates were as low as $79 a night by the time the hotel closed in November 2006, and occupancy was just over 50 percent.

But the hotel has an enviable location in a neighborhood that has become more affluent, with trendy restaurants and bars and high-end apartments and condos.

And its Lion's Den bar maintained a following, as did the restaurant, thanks to its homestyle menu and waitress Minnie Ishop Moss, who worked there for 37 years and passed away in 2006.

The hotel's owners saw the potential for a tremendous upside. "It was a diamond in the rough," Mr. Pankey said.

When the hotel opens next month, operators hope to draw crowds to their flashy modern restaurant and lively bar area, which have become important revenue drivers for upscale hotels. Two Maple Avenue terraces canopied by several 72-year-old live oak trees have been turned into space for an outdoor bar and private events.

Rooms will start at $245 a night, compared with rates exceeding $300 for other nearby newcomers such as the W Dallas Victory and the Ritz-Carlton Dallas.

"We feel we can come in with pricing just below some of our competitors and do just fine," Mr. Pankey said.

Prescott also plans to play up the property's historic and residential appeal.

"Our neighborhood and trees were already there," Mr. Pankey said. "We didn't have to manufacture it."

The Stoneleigh's management comes with deep local knowledge from LaCorsha Hospitality Group, led by Jeff Trigger.

Mr. Trigger ran the Adolphus and Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek before taking the helm at Austin's Driskill hotel. John Langston, who previously worked for the Rosewood Crescent Hotel, will be the Stoneleigh's managing director.

Targeting well-heeled

The Stoneleigh is the latest property for well-heeled travelers to open near downtown Dallas.

The 218-room Ritz-Carlton Dallas opened last summer, and the 252-room W Dallas Victory hotel opened in 2006.

The 129-room Joule hotel, part of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc.'s luxury collection, is slated to open this spring, and a 150-room Mandarin Oriental is slated to open in 2010 in Victory Park.

Some analysts have questioned whether Dallas can absorb so many high-priced rooms in such a short period. Only 60.3 percent of the city's hotel rooms were filled during 2007, compared with an average occupancy rate of 68.5 percent for the nation's top 25 markets, according to Smith Travel Research.

John Keeling, a senior vice president with PKF Consulting in Houston, said Dallas has struggled because visitors perceive that there isn't enough to do downtown. Recent development projects, such as the $3 billion Victory Park, have helped make the area more attractive, but the hotels need more corporate tenants downtown to drive stronger demand.

The operators of the Stoneleigh are "going into a hatchet fight," Mr. Keeling said. "They're facing the Mansion, the Ritz, the W and eventually the Mandarin. It's going to become a very competitive market for those hotels."

Mr. Keeling, who was an asset manager for the Stoneleigh more than a decade ago, said the historic hotel always had a good location.

"There's no reason to expect that it couldn't get its fair share of the market," Mr. Keeling said. "The question is, 'How big is the market?' "

A place with 'soul'

Mr. Pankey said the city's strong economy will help keep demand strong, while the hotel's historic appeal will give it an edge over competitors such as the Ritz and the W.

"We can deliver a very different product and a very different atmosphere," he said. "You can't build something that's brand new and have a sense of place or soul."

Mr. Pankey estimates that after a ramp-up, the hotel will stabilize at an occupancy rate of 72 percent to 75 percent.

Phillip Jones, chief executive for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Stoneleigh will help the city attract small corporate meetings.

"It's an area that we see a lot of future opportunity in," Mr. Jones said, adding that the bureau hired a salesperson a year ago to focus on that business.

The Stoneleigh and other new high-end hotels "enhance Dallas' ability to be more competitive in the luxury market," Mr. Jones said.

More than history

Longtime fans of the Stoneleigh will have to get used to entering through the property's back door, which will have a new porte-cochere and courtyard.

A row of dormer windows has been uncovered in the lobby to add more light, and a ground floor meeting room has been eliminated to give a more open feel.

While much of the renovation played up the hotel's historic charms, the bar is more modern, with black lacquered interlocking boxes, antique mirrors and crystal chandeliers.

The hotel will also have a stylish modern Italian restaurant called Bolla, helmed by David Bull. Mr. Bull, who also came from the Driskill in Austin, may be an attraction on his own for Dallas foodies. He was a 2007 nominee for the James Beard Foundation's best chef of the Southwest.

Built in 1923, the Stoneleigh was one of the first residential hotels west of the Mississippi River, with a mix of overnight and extended-stay visitors. Prescott Realty refurbished two of the original second-floor kitchenettes, which include the original exhaust units by Richardson-based Vent-A-Hood Corp.

Other rooms are also steeped in history, including a wood-paneled "Grape Room." The wood there and in the penthouse is 300-year-old English oak diapered paneling from a London-area Charterhouse school.

The Stoneleigh will also feature nine "tribute suites" -- named for famous guests such as Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, and Ossie Davis and his wife, recent Oscar nominee Ruby Dee.

STONELEIGH TIMELINE

1923: The 135-suite Stoneleigh Court Hotel is built for $1.1 million to $1.5 million and is the tallest hotel west of the Mississippi River.

1934: The hotel is purchased by Col. Harry E. Stewart and undergoes renovation.

1938: The 11th floor is converted to a 7,500-square-foot art deco penthouse with 22-foot ceilings, diapered oak paneling from a London-area Charterhouse school and a secret passage to the 10th floor.

1941: KSYK radio, one of the city's earliest stations, begins broadcasting from the Stoneleigh's 11th floor and operates there until 1982.

1943: The hotel and adjacent Maple Terrace are sold to Leo F. Corrigan.

1955: The Stoneleigh is the unofficial headquarters for the Metropolitan Opera Company.

1993: Corrigan Realty sells the hotel to Malaysian investors, who make $1 million in renovations and open a 40-seat sushi restaurant.

1998: The hotel is sold to American Property Management and Apollo Real Estate Advisors.

2001: Ian Schrager Hotels takes over management and plans a renovation for Apollo. The plans are put on hold after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

2002: Prism Hotel takes over hotel management.

2005: Prescott Realty Group, part of the hotel's ownership group, takes over as managing general partner and announces a renovation and plans for a 21-floor luxury condominium tower.

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To see more of The Dallas Morning News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.dallasnews.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Dallas Morning News

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