|By Jill Nolin, Montgomery Advertiser,
Ala.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 27, 2012--The former Madison Hotel in downtown Montgomery, which has struggled to reinvent itself over the years, will undergo a $5 million overhaul and reopen later this year as Doubletree Hotel, a 130-room facility.
John Tampa, who bought the beleaguered hotel site late last year, said he plans to gut the hotel. He hopes his investment and the drastic renovation project will return the hotel to its former glory of the 1970s. It was most recently called the Clarion Hotel.
"Nothing will stay except the walls," Tampa said Thursday, adding that he hopes to open the new hotel this summer.
The hotel generated a buzz in the community when it was first built in 1973, according to local historian Mary Ann Neeley. At the time it was considered "quite a rarity" because of its decor and unusual mascots -- it kept live birds in cages in the lobby -- and its restaurant offered Montgomerians a chance to taste fine Italian food, according to Neeley.
"It was the first of the nicer hotels in downtown," Neeley said.
The possibility of the hotel seeing a rebirth has been intimated before, but those past failures have not dulled the enthusiasm among city officials. Mayor Todd Strange held a news conference on Thursday to announce Tampa's decision to renovate and reopen the hotel. Construction has already started.
Strange believes the suites that the hotel will offer will create ample space for the families that come to Montgomery for athletic events at Cramton Bowl and the sports complex that is still under construction. He also said the hotel project will allow the city to better market the convention center.
This Doubletree Hotel will serve as an overflow hotel for the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center, but that does not mean it is skimping on features. The hotel will have a fitness center, a full-service restaurant and bar, and 10,000 square feet of meeting-room space that would accommodate as many as 500 people.
Tampa already runs three other hotels in the Montgomery area: Two Hampton Inn and Suites hotels -- one in downtown and one in Hope Hull -- and a Fairfield Inn and Suites in Hope Hull that will open in April.
Tampa attributed the site's past struggles with timing -- the momentum of downtown redevelopment just was not there -- and the way the hotel was operated. He also believes the Doubletree brand will lend itself well to the hotel.
"We believe the opportunities in downtown (Montgomery) are better than any other market," Tampa said. "We believe the growth is here."
It is unclear how much demand there is for more hotel rooms in the immediate future, but Dawn Hathcock with the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce anticipates a growing demand in the next few years.
The occupancy rate of hotels in 2011 was 52 percent, which was up only about 1.5 percent from 2010. The hotels that are the downtown grouping -- that includes the Embassy Suites Hotel, Renaissance and Hampton Inn in downtown and the Homewood Suites and Hilton Garden Inn off Exit 4 -- had an occupancy of 64 percent last year.
Montgomery currently has more than 7,000 rooms throughout the city. So far this fiscal year, the lodging tax proceeds are up 5.2 percent after a particularly strong month in December, according to city records.
"There's a lot of things on the books, but it always comes down to what translates into real numbers so you never know, but I'm optimistic about it," Hathcock said Thursday. "The hard thing, too, is that what we're selling today doesn't happen for two years."
Hathcock likes the location of the new Doubletree Hotel because it is in the middle of the new sports complex on Madison Avenue, government buildings and the convention center.
(c)2012 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)
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