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Clock is Ticking - Developers of The Cambria Suites Hotel in Roanoke
Must be Ready for Customers by Thursday Night or Lose $1 million in Grants

By Duncan Adams, The Roanoke Times, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

May 19, 2010--If this were a movie, there would be a blood-red digital readout counting down the minutes and a hero feverishly working to defuse a decidedly unhappy ending.

In this case, the clock is ticking and a total of $1 million in economic development grants could go up in smoke.

The developers of the Cambria Suites hotel under construction on Reserve Avenue in Southwest Roanoke, along with contractors, subcontractors and investors, are in feverish mode.

To be eligible for the $1 million, spread across six annual grants, the hotel must have a permanent certificate of occupancy by 11:59 p.m. Thursday and be open for business.

"They have to be able to put someone up, but it doesn't mean they have to have customers," said Brian Townsend, Roanoke's assistant city manager for community development.

As of Tuesday, the hotel had a temporary certificate of occupancy. It allows hotel staff and employees in training to spend the night in about 30 available rooms but does not OK boarding paying customers.

The Cambria Suites hotel will ultimately feature 127 suites. Townsend said developers will not be expected to have all rooms available by Thursday night.

On Monday, Jeff Shawver, Roanoke's building commissioner, said "the building itself is in pretty good shape" but that site work, including landscaping, paving and the like, was still under way.

Monday was a rainy day. Tuesday was wet, too.

Site work must be completed before the issuance of a permanent certificate of occupancy, Shawver said.

"The site plan is very specific," he said.

"We're going to keep an optimistic viewpoint," Shawver added.

On Monday, Kjell Kaashagen, a principal with Telemark Hotel Developers in Wisconsin, sounded upbeat, although he acknowledged he did not then have completely up-to-date information. Telemark and the Roanoke Hotel Group have been involved in the project.

Kaashagen could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The Cambria Suites hotel will be close to Carilion Clinic's new clinic building at the corner of South Jefferson Street and Reserve Avenue, as well as Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital and the new Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute.

"We've gotten tons and tons of bookings, just for Carilion," Kaashagen said.

A nearby Ramada Inn franchise has long served people who are hospitalized or seeking treatment at one of Carilion's facilities.

Shawver, as well as the city's Economic Development Authority and city officials, have said the Cambria Suites hotel will be an economic plus. Shawver said he hopes its developers will nail the deadline.

Developers have been granted two extensions that have allowed work to continue past the original deadline of Sept. 20, which was the two-year anniversary of the signing of a performance agreement that tied the $1 million in grants to that deadline.

Construction of the Cambria Suites began two years ago. Work has been delayed by varied problems, including financing challenges, a payment dispute with a general contracting company that eventually walked off the job, and unusually prolonged snowfall this winter.

The latest extension was granted under a condition of the performance agreement that can push back the deadline because of events beyond the developers' control, which was the snowfall.

The developers' opportunity to apply for annual economic development grants emerged because of the costs of altering the building's design because of its presence in a Roanoke River flood plain.

In addition to the deadline, other grant conditions hold that the developers invest at least $14.4 million in the project and generate sufficient tax revenues for the city through real estate and occupancy taxes.

Telemark bought the 6.4-acre parcel for the hotel from Carilion in 2006 for $925,000, the amount Carilion paid the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority for the land and for raising the site above the flood plain.

Cambria Suites is a franchise brand of Choice Hotels International, a publicly traded company based in Maryland.

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To see more of The Roanoke Times, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.roanoke.com/.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Roanoke Times, Va.

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