|By Edward L. Gunts, The Baltimore
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
December, 2010 - After nearly a year in which no new hotels have opened in downtown Baltimore, two have made their debuts just in time for the holiday travel season.
The $8 million, 49-room Best Western Plus-Envy Hotel opened last month inside the historic Hotel Junker in the unit block of E. Fayette St.
Last week, the $5.5 million, 62-room Sleep Inn & Suites Downtown/Inner Harbor opened in the 300 block of Fallsway, in the renovated shell of the old Furncraft building, a former furniture store.
The Best Western Plus and Sleep Inn are two of about a dozen Baltimore hotels that were supposed to be open or substantially complete by the end of 2010.
Many of the hotel projects were stalled by the recession and continuing economic slump as owners were unable to obtain financing. Owners of two partly completed hotel projects, the Indigo and the Staybridge Suites, filed for bankruptcy court protection.
The Best Western Plus is a venture of Tran Group, which also owns the 96-room Quality Inn Downtown Baltimore at St. Paul Place and Lexington Street. Principal La Tran said his group typically pays for initial development costs out of its own money, so it does not have to obtain loans from conventional lenders to begin construction.
The Sleep Inn on Fallsway marks the first time that the Sleep Inn division of Choice Hotels International has opened a hotel in an existing building. The hotel is the first Sleep Inn in Baltimore and one of the first Sleep Inns in the country to feature a new interior design package, according to Mike Varner, senior director of brand planning for the Sleep Inn division.
"This is a new direction for our brand" in terms of the look and feel of the rooms and common spaces, Varner said.
Dating from the early 20th century, the structure was built as a warehouse but contained a furniture store for more than 65 years. The project owner and developer is Maryland-based Sanket Patel of Front Street Development LLC.
Patel said his group obtained a conventional loan for the project but declined to name the lender.
He said it made sense to preserve a large, sturdy structure.
"The way we looked at it," Patel said, "why tear down a perfectly useful building? ... Where else do you have old-growth pine timber floors? Where else do you get 28-inch-thick walls? Why not save them?"
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