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LodgeWorks Plans to Open Four Avia Hotels in 2009

Secured Funding Prior to Tightening of Credit Markets

By Dan Voorhis, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 21, 2008 - While the credit crisis may have slowed a lot of companies, one Wichita company is set to expand at a rapid clip.

LodgeWorks plans to open four luxury boutique hotels and five other hotels in 2009.

The first Avia boutique hotel will open in January in Savannah, Ga. Others will open in Long Beach, Calif.; Napa, Calif.; and the Houston area during the year.

LodgeWorks secured funding for the hotels before credit markets tightened, said chief executive Tony Isaac.

"We're really lucky," Isaac said. "We were able to get most of the (projects in the) pipeline financed before the slowdown."

Avia is a new kind of hotel for LodgeWorks. It caters to the well-heeled traveler in search of something different from the typical chain hotel. It's decor borrows from the local area.

LodgeWorks has a range of hotel operations. Some hotels it builds and runs under its own brand names, such as the Avia. Others it builds and runs under other brands, such as Hyatt. And some hotels it only operates.

Last year the company renovated 10 of its Sierra Suites hotels, renaming them Hotel Sierra and giving them a more upscale look. It expects to add four more in 2009.

It also plans to break ground on a Hyatt Place hotel in Madison, Wis., in the near future.

In all, the company plans to open nine hotels in 2009.

It has been a long journey for the 10 or so senior executives at LodgeWorks.

Isaac came to Wichita in 1985 to work at extended-stay hotel chain Residence Inn.

He and the other LodgeWorks executives worked together under Residence Inn, then Summerfield Suites, which was sold to Wyndham International in 1998.

They formed LodgeWorks after Wyndham got into financial trouble, and they bought back some of the original Summerfield hotels.

In 2005, they sold 16 of their mid-price Sierra Suites and began moving toward the upscale market. That move has sharply accelerated with the launch of Hotel Sierra and Avia.

The downturn likely will affect how well the hotels do in 2009, Isaac said, but that won't stop them.

"We are still developing hotels," he said. "A lot of companies are out of the development game."

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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To see more of The Wichita Eagle, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.kansas.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.

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