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Wilmington, North Carolina City Leaders Hope New Year Breathes
New Life Into Stalled Convention Center Hotel Project

By Patrick Gannon, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 2, 2009--Taking another stab at a languishing project, Wilmington will seek proposals in January from wanna-be developers of a convention center hotel.

City council decided at a meeting Monday morning to wait until after the holiday season, when business activity often slows.

"My biggest fear is we put something out there, and it just sits on somebody's desk," said Steve Bridges, assistant to the city manager for development.

Bridges said he hoped 2010 would bring an optimistic business outlook, as well as the loosening of the credit markets.

"Hopefully, the economic climate will be better after the first of the year," he said.

It will be the third time the city seeks proposals from the private sector for a headquarters hotel to accompany the Wilmington Convention Center, which is expected to open in the second half of 2010 on the northern downtown riverfront. Recently, the city terminated a contract with Wilmington River Group, LLC, the company it tapped in April 2008 to build a 160-room Hotel Indigo. In 2007, the city received proposals from six developers, but rejected them all.

Wilmington officials are hoping a hotel rises next to the convention center as soon as possible. Center marketers have said that the lack of a headquarters hotel would cause some groups to book conventions elsewhere.

Bridges said it would take at least 60 days from the time a request for qualifications, or RFQ, goes out and when the city council picks a developer. After that, it could take 18 months to two years to design and build a hotel. The construction time would vary based on the type of hotel built.

The hotel site is adjacent to the convention center site. The chosen developer would first have to buy the three-quarters of an acre from the city for $578,978, a price based on an appraisal in October 2007. While the convention center is city-owned, the hotel would be privately owned and operated.

This time around, the city also plans to require the developer to have a $1 million surety in hand before the council inks a deal. The city could then return the money to the developer in pieces as milestones are reached in design and construction.

"We want to make sure someone can perform up front this time" Bridges said.

Wilmington River Group was unable to provide a surety acceptable to the city, and the city terminated its contract with the company as a result.

Council members have also weighed in on what services and amenities they want in a hotel. Ranking high on the list were a spacious, high-end lobby, a full-service restaurant, a bar or lounge, room service and a fitness center. Council also would prefer a hotel with 200 or more rooms, but could live with 160.

But while the city will seek the perfect hotel, council members acknowledge that the private market would largely determine what type of hotel is built.

Patrick Gannon: 343-2328

On Twitter.com: @starnewsonline

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To see more of The Star-News or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.starnewsonline.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.

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