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Financing a Hotel is a Tough Job, "Not for the Squeamish"
says Bridget Chisholm of Urban Hotel Group

By Richard M. Barron, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 2, 2009--GREENSBORO -- A Memphis businesswoman with strong ties to Greensboro believes she has found a way to build a $75 million hotel project despite a deep recession and dried-up credit markets.

The proposal is going into high gear now, said Bridget Chisholm, because billions in redevelopment bonds were just released by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in June as part of the massive American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Nearly $40 million has been allocated for possible projects in Greensboro and Guilford County, a release from the Treasury shows.

Chisholm, a financial consultant with experience managing a $12 million public-private development in Memphis, is seizing the chance to work with Greensboro to raise the subsidized bond money for a project that she believes could be a strong stimulus to business and the city.

But as the Towne Center at Soulsville community development project showed, she'll need a team of professionals working with the government and private lenders to put together complex layers of financing needed for a 300-bed full-service hotel.

"It's not for the squeamish," said Chisholm, a Fayetteville native and a 1986 graduate of Wake Forest University with an MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

"What's happened with this global crisis and meltdown -- the traditional way that people go about putting together deals doesn't really work," she said. "The whole goal of this Recovery and Reinvestment Act is to stimulate business."

But some, including developer Milton Kern, are dubious that financing can be found for any hotel.

"Banks are just not loaning money for hotels," he said.

Besides the hotel proposal, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and city officials plan a trip to Washington next week to ask for legislators' support for Greensboro's efforts to build a central office for Guilford County Schools in the South Elm Street district.

Chisholm said Greensboro is a perfect place to christen her Urban Hotel Group venture because:

-- The South Elm Street redevelopment site, which the city has bought and cleaned up to attract major business projects, is nearly ready to be sold this year.

-- Greensboro is a good market for another full-service hotel.

-- Chisholm does work for the N.C. Institute for Minority Business, is a financial adviser for Bennett College and has a residence here.

-- Her brother and friends live here in Greensboro.

Greensboro's hotel business is down 20 percent right now, said Henri Fourrier, the president of the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau.

But that doesn't mean we have enough rooms in all tiers of the market. "There's a market for full-service hotels with meeting space," he said.

Greensboro is attracting more and more conventions, youth sports events and religious group meetings, Fourrier said, and another full-service hotel near the Greensboro Coliseum would draw business.

A new hotel might mean some hotels would go out of business, he said.

"I don't think this market can sustain any more hotel rooms," he said. "But if someone is going to invest, I believe a full-service hotel most closely aligns itself with what our market can support."

Andy Scott, Greensboro's assistant city manager and economic developer, said he had been hearing from hotel companies interested in building here in the past few months.

"I've talked to more hotel developers than I've talked to any other single source, and we're not talking fly-by-night," Scott said. "The hotel industry must see some (kind) of unmet demand here in Greensboro."

But Ed Wolverton, president and CEO of Downtown Greensboro, isn't sure about the prospects for these deals.

"There has been interest from hotel developers in downtown for a couple of years," he said. "Entrepreneurs feel there is definitely a market. In today's environment, however, finding financing has become much more difficult for these projects. I have been dealing with two serious prospects in the past 18 months. Neither is the South Elm project. They are new to the scene."

Chisholm, a former county commissioner in Memphis, used a combination of government tax credits and assistance from Wachovia to raise the money for the Soulsville project, and construction is under way. It includes offices, retail and restaurants.

"She's an incredibly bright woman," Scott said. "She's got a track record, she's done this before. Everything she's talking about has kind of tested itself out."

He said the city's redevelopment commission and the City Council would have final approval of any project, however, and it must be capable of paying off any city debt before it gets approved.

If assembling such a complex and expensive deal is a long shot, however, Chisholm won't be the one to say so. "I don't spend my own money and time on stuff that isn't real," she said. "And the level of people that are involved don't spend their time on something that isn't real."

Staff writer Donald W. Patterson contributed to this report.

Contact Richard M. Barron at 373-7371 or richard.barron@news-record.com

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To see more of the News & Record or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.news-record.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.

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