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Mesa, Arizona's Economic History One Day Could be Divided into Two
 Major Chapters: B.G. and A.G., as in Before Gaylord and After Gaylord
By Edward Gately, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

September 24, 2008 - GRAPEVINE, TEXAS

--Mesa's economic history one day could be divided into two major chapters: B.G. and A.G., as in Before Gaylord and After Gaylord.

That's if the massive Gaylord Entertainment resort and convention center planned near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport is anything like the city within a city that the Gaylord Texan is in Grapevine, Texas. Gaylord expects to invest close to $750 million in the Mesa project.

Grapevine Mayor William Tate said his city now has more jobs than people, while Paul Mc-Callum, executive director of the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Gaylord Texan has helped the city avoid a real estate downturn.

"Of all the cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we're the only city to give a property tax decrease this year," Tate said. "A lot of cities are in the hole on their budgets. School districts are in the hole on their budgets."

The Gaylord Texan opened four years ago on 4.5 acres a few miles from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Earlier this month, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith and Gaylord executives announced plans for a hotel and convention center expected to rise 10 stories with 1,200 to 1,500 rooms. It would also feature 200,000 to 300,000 square feet of indoor meeting or convention space.

Gaylord will buy 100 acres at the General Motors Desert Proving Ground site in southeast Mesa from real estate developer DMB Associates, which owns 3,200 acres of land. This will be Gaylord's fifth resort and conference center project, with other properties in Nashville, Tenn., near Washington, D.C., and in Orlando, Fla.

Gaylord will benefit from an estimated $72 million in property tax abatements over 50 years. Also, the company will be able to use $44 million in the resort's bed tax collections. The company will use that money to promote the property as well as tourism in the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Area.

In Texas, officials say the benefits far outweigh the incentives the city gave Gaylord.

"What happened was far more than what we expected to happen," McCallum said. "We were purposely heading in the direction of hospitality/conventions/tourism (as) the primary industry of Grapevine ... but Gaylord pushed it over the top, and it continues to grow."

Others don't want to overstate the importance of Gaylord to the city's overall economy.

Lynn Whittington, a local real estate agent and owner of Whittington Distinctive Homes, said that Gaylord, while an asset to the community, is "by no means a savior for the whole area."

He maintains that there are other and larger employers than Gaylord in the area.

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View a slide show and video of the Gaylord Texan

"It's a really good thing to have for the five miles in any direction from it, but beyond that, its effect really begins to taper off," he said.

BIG AS TEXAS

Most hotels probably could fit inside the main atrium of the Gaylord Texan, and that's just one part of the massive complex, which includes 1,511 rooms, two additional atriums, and numerous food and beverage locations.

Everything about the property says Texas, from Alamostyle architecture inside the main atrium to the Texas flag and the horseshoes and longhorns splashed across the carpeting and walls throughout. Even the steel columns that support the main atrium look like oil derricks.

"A group might come to Gaylord Nashville to have an Opryland experience, and then come to Gaylord Texan to have a Texas experience, and then go to Gaylord Palms to have a Florida experience," said John Imaizumi, senior vice president and general manager of the Gaylord Texan.

"You can go just outside Washington, D.C., to the Gaylord National for that northeastern experience, and then you will be able to have a Mesa experience."

Everything about the Gaylord Texan is big, including the convention business it handles each year. For instance, Kawasaki arrived Friday for its weeklong convention and booked the entire hotel.

"It's a great group, it's a full house," Imaizumi said. "When we get a group like that, not only are they in the hotel, but they're outside the hotel and there's a lot of the food and beverage spending, both in catering and our outlets, so it's not just about the room but the entire spending."

The convention center has an army of employees accommodating the thousands of visitors there at any given time. As part of the opening of Kawasaki's convention, employees were busy preparing to host a party for 2,300 guests.

"We can do the 10-person group to the 12,000 group, and we've literally done them all," Imaizumi said.

Roc Arnett, president of the East Valley Partnership, said a convention center the size of Gaylord Texan would be the largest convention facility connected to a hotel in Arizona.

"It will be an amazing economic catalyst and driver for many years to come," he said.

SOLD OUT ON DAY ONE

Before opening, the Gaylord Texan hired about 1,000 employees in four days from a pool of about 10,000 applicants. The company receives about 30,000 applications each year. It now has about 2,000 employees, including full-timers, part-timers and those on call.

"We opened up literally April 2, 2004, and we were sold out Day One," Imaizumi said.

One of the earliest conventions was the Honda Gold Wing Road Riders Association, the world's largest social organization for owners and riders of Honda Gold Wing/Valkyrie motorcycles. It brought 12,000 people to Grapevine.

"Obviously, you do the math and it does not fit in into 1,500 rooms, so they took over every hotel in the county and they were even in the campgrounds, because they come on their bikes," Imaizumi said.

"When we book those groups, they can be larger than what we can handle, and then, with the help of the city, we do overflow to the other hotels."

Grapevine's population used to drop during the day, as much of the work force traveled outside the city, Tate said. That's no longer the case, he said.

"We have about 50,000 people who live here at night and about 135,000 people who work here during the day," he said. "At the airport and at places like the Gaylord, we've created jobs, we've created tax generators."

Gaylord prides itself on taking care of its employees, who are known as STARS (smiles, teamwork, attitude, reliability and service with a passion).

"Every person you see here with a name tag, they're a STAR," Imaizumi said. "I don't like the word 'employee' because it sounds subservient. We work together, no one works for somebody.

"We're basically like a little city, and it is anything from housekeepers, stewards, frontdesk people, retail, spa, to food and beverage servers, hosts and hostesses and culinary staff."

The Gaylord Texan is expanding to accommodate even more visitors, adding 500 more guest rooms and 200,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as a pool complex, more parkinggarage space and more resort amenities around Lake Grapevine, he said.

REVENUE ENGINE

Neither the city of Grapevine nor the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau have been specifically tracking the economic benefit of the Gaylord Texan.

However, Tate said the city has increased its services and funded various improvement projects with tax revenue generated by the people the resort brings to the area.

"Our sales tax generates about four times what our property tax does, and 80 percent of the sales tax is generated by people who don't live here," he said.

As of Oct. 1, Grapevine's property tax rate will drop more than a cent to roughly 35 cents per $100 of valuation, said City Manager Bruno Rumbelow.

"Clearly, it's due to our local economy and the fact that we have such a strong business climate," he said.

CONTACT WRITER:

(480) 898-6814 or egately@evtrib.com

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To see more of The Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.eastvalleytribune.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Tribune, Mesa, Ariz.

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