|By Steve Brown, The Dallas Morning
NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 28, 2009--Dallas' $350 million downtown convention hotel won't open until 2012. But starting next week, conventioneers will have a new place to stay when the Aloft Hotel opens across from the Dallas Convention Center.
The nationwide hotel market is in a recession-induced slump, but developers of the 193-room, $35 million Aloft think they have the right product in the right location.
"We think our timing is good," said developer Ted Hamilton. "We're actually happy about the planned convention hotel because we think it will help us attract business."
With room rates as low as $89 a night, Aloft hopes to fill a niche with visitors who want an affordable place that doesn't look like a roadside motel.
Indeed, the nine-story hotel at 1033 Young St. is a far cry from a standard suburban hotel.
For one thing, it was built in an 84-year-old former railroad freight depot, the first time Aloft -- one of Starwood Hotels & Resorts' brands -- has opened in a historic building.
The rough concrete and brick walls throughout the inside of the hotel are proof of the building's beginnings as a humble warehouse.
"Our goal all along was to embrace the integrity of the historic building," Hamilton said. "That's the loft image."
The first floor houses the check-in desk, a lounge, bar and food service area beneath a high ceiling.
Tucked at the back of the building are an exercise room and swimming pool.
"We were going to put the pool on the roof, but the cost was going to be exorbitant," Hamilton said.
Instead, the developers added a ninth floor with 19 rooms.
"We are a lot bigger than the prototype Aloft, which has 123 rooms," he said.
The average room has about 430 square feet of space -- as much as a Manhattan apartment.
There's also about 10,000 square feet of meeting space in the basement.
The hotel, which opens Thursday, is almost fully booked for the weekend, said Suhas Naik, principal with project partner Sava Holdings Ltd.
"We expect convention groups will be at least 40 percent of our business," Naik said, with the rest coming from downtown business and leisure visitors.
Sava Holdings' partners bought the vacant warehouse 11 years ago and waited for the right development deal to come along.
"We purchased the building knowing it's a great hotel location," Naik said.
Developer Hamilton Properties began working on the project in 2006.
"That's how long it takes to redevelop a historic building," Hamilton said. "Three years is not a lot."
Aloft owners are projecting an average occupancy above 50 percent by next year.
"Starwood already has a good reputation with the Sheraton and Westin downtown," Naik said.
Aloft markets its trendy urban properties as an affordable alternative to its popular W Hotels.
The chain also has locations in Plano and Las Colinas.
"Nearly 40 Alofts will be open globally by the end of this year, and major markets for the brand will be Chicago, Texas, Washington, D.C., and New York City," said Aloft representative Austin Jacobson.
"With two new Alofts opening this summer and others expected to open within the next few years, Texas will soon be home to the largest concentration of Alofts in the South."
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