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Stadium Closing Hurts; Hotels Near Texas Stadium
 in Irving Look for New Playbook
By Karen Robinson-Jacobs, The Dallas Morning NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

April 7, 2010 - IRVING -- Madan S. "Mark" Patel, who's co-owned a Days Inn across the road from Texas Stadium since 1992, will watch Sunday's planned implosion of the storied stadium with more than a sports fan's sentimentality.

For Patel and other hotel operators nearby, the stadium provided the extra points in a business that's been blitzed by relocated Dallas Cowboys fans and a sagging economy. Sheltering those fans helped send Patel's two sons to college.

Saturday night, Patel and other innkeepers are cashing in on the stadium one more time. They are offering implosion packages to those who want to witness the end of the Irving icon.

"Before it goes down, it's going to give us revenue again," said Patel, whose 168 rooms are sold out Saturday.

As dust settles over the stadium rubble, the hotel operators will be fine-tuning plans to attract new customers as they await word on what's next.

"When they played, it was the cream. We could charge top rates and make good money," said Patel, 47. "That place is not going to help me now until something big happens."

Patel's modest two-story hotel on Airport Freeway was built in the mid-1970s, a few years after the stadium made its debut in 1971. Among the handful of nearby hotels -- mostly low-slung, low-price options -- Patel's is one of the oldest and closest.

Between 2004 and the last Cowboys game in December 2008, his rates soared from $54 a night to up to $125. About 80 percent of his business on game weekends came courtesy of the Cowboys, who moved last year to a $1.2 billion showplace in Arlington.

"Mostly, we were 100 percent booked for the games," Patel said. "We were right across the street so we got the best advantage on game weekends."

Annual sales averaged $1.4 million in the last four years the stadium was open, he said. Last year, between the economy and his abandoned neighbor, sales were down to $1 million -- a drop of 29 percent, Patel said.

That's a little bit steeper than the 20 percent falloff at Crossroads Hotel and Suites (formerly Econo Lodge) on John Carpenter Freeway, according to general manager Peter Patel (no relation to Mark Patel).

"We haven't replaced that 20 percent," said Peter Patel, 39, who's been with the 114-room hotel since 2003. "We'll have to venture out from our immediate vicinity and take whatever business that we can. There is no new business to pick up. You're going to cannibalize some other hotel's business until [the economy] picks up."

Several hotels have been torn down to make way for reconstruction of Airport Freeway, said Shawn Callaway, vice president of marketing for the Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce.

Ordinarily, reduced supply would boost rates, but the slack economy has put a damper on most increases.

And from 2005 to 2007 -- even before the departure of football and fiscal prosperity -- hotels closest to the stadium saw occupancy rates averaging 55 percent to 65 percent, according to Smith Travel Research. That compares with a 65 percent to 70 percent average for higher-end hotels closest to Irving's corporate corridor a few miles to the northeast.

Callaway acknowledged small hotels closest to the stadium would feel a disproportionate burden from its exit.

But he added, "They obviously didn't make their entire year's revenue off of 10 [Cowboys] games. I'm sure they will find a way to thrive. From a business standpoint, we want to do everything we can to ... help them through in the interim period until something else is there."

When there'll be a "something else" and what it'll be are up in the air. Hotel operators are hoping a soon-to-be-vacant parcel will someday sprout a shopping center.

In March 2008, North Carolina-based Tanger Factory Outlet Centers Inc. announced plans to build an upscale outlet shopping center on about 45 acres owned by the University of Dallas just north and west of the stadium, at the intersection of State Highway 114 and Loop 12.

Callaway said the recession put the project on hold.

Tanger still has the land under contract and remains interested in the project, said Robert Galecke, the university's executive vice president. Beyond that, he deferred to Tanger, which did not return calls seeking comment.

For at least the next seven years, the Texas Department of Transportation plans to use the stadium property, about 75 acres, as a staging area for expansion of Airport Freeway.

Hoteliers said they expect the roadwork to generate some business for them, as construction supervisors come and go.

If a development comes along within seven years, the city has the right to find a new staging area for the freeway project, Callaway said.

Callaway also noted that Irving will open a new convention center in December on Las Colinas Boulevard, about five miles from stadium-area hotels. The city also hopes to develop an entertainment district near the new convention center, with a mix of restaurants and bars centered around a live music venue. Plans for that are not final.

Until football is replaced, hoteliers are focusing largely on luring businesses travelers and guests attending special events, such as the recent NBA All-Star Game.

The 363-room Sterling Hotel Dallas, one of the closest full-service hotels to the stadium, is boosting advertising and casting its net wide.

"We're going to go after ... all the [Dallas] convention center business, the American Airlines Center. We're trying to get those businesses in here," said Corrie Hale, 67, the soft-spoken director of sales and marketing who joined the Sterling two months ago.

She and sales manager Diann Hannah, 63, said the hotel is centrally located -- on Regal Row between Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Love Field -- and charges less than other full-service hotels. They see those as key draws not only for budget-minded business travelers, but also families planning reunions and quinceaneras.

"I think we are in a terrific spot," she said. "With the right marketing, we will not have any problems at all."

But the stadium closing hurt, Hannah said, without giving specific numbers. "I think it impacted all of us."

At Crossroads, the sales manager recently brought in a contract for new business from a trucking company, said Peter Patel.

But even with new sales, he said, "it'll be tough to survive" until replacement development shows up.

"Everybody is struggling to keep whatever business they have," he said.

-----

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Copyright (c) 2010, The Dallas Morning News

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