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JHM Hotels Inc. Will Reposition, Reflag
the 330 room Charleston Riverview Hotel
By Kyle Stock, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

Apr. 15, 2004 - The recently acquired Charleston Riverview Hotel, the peninsula's second-largest lodging, expects to fly the flag of a big hotel chain in the next few weeks, part of a multimillion-dollar renovation that will pit the property against luxury hotels downtown. 

"It will be completely repositioned," said D.J. Rama, vice president of operations at Greenville-based JHM Hotels Inc., which bought the Riverview in December. "The only thing that will remain in each room is the glass and the four walls." With about 330 guest rooms, 12 floors and 18,000 square feet of meeting space, the Lockwood Drive hotel trails only Charleston Place in terms of capacity. 

However, the 24-year-old property lost both luster and market share in recent years as new lodgings including the Marriott Courtyard and Springhill Suites were built nearby. 

"It's a tired old product," said Jim Flynn, director of sales and marketing at Renaissance Charleston Hotel downtown. 

The Riverview lost several of its affiliation "flags" over the years, including Sheraton's and most recently Radisson's. A "special servicer" took over the property from Florida-based Summit Hotel Management Co. in early 2002 and started looking for a buyer. 

JHM Hotels, which owns about 33 U.S. hotels, took an interest last year and closed on the deal in mid-December. Most of JHM's properties are in the Southeast, including four in Greenville and one in Columbia, but the company had been eyeing the Charleston lodging landscape since the 1980s. 

"We're always looking for the right opportunity and we feel this is the right entry into the marketplace," Rama said. "It makes sense, and it makes sense for the long term." The Greenville company wouldn't say how much it paid for the property or how much it is spending on renovations, but it is shooting for the high-end traveler. 

Over the next year and half, JHM will gut every room and bathroom, add a new "skin" on the outside of the building and roll out new restaurants and a new bar and pool. It also plans to increase the hotel's staff by at least 50 percent. 

Just how fancy the hotel will be depends on what corporate flag it will fly, a deal JHM expects to have closed in about two weeks. JHM can't say which company it is negotiating with, but the 12 or so Marriotts in the area have received letters from corporate headquarters asking how they would be impacted by Riverview joining the group. 

The massive project has some hotels downtown concerned about losing market share, particularly high-end properties with meeting space. 

"At the end of the day, it will be like a brand new hotel," Flynn said. "It will steal programs from us, no doubt about it. ... I don't think the impact will be huge, but it will be felt." 

Flynn said that a lot of his colleagues and competitors disagree. They think the property is too far from the Market, the Battery, Marion Square and other downtown tourism draws to siphon off much market share. But Riverview' s size and abundant free parking will represent a force to contend with. 

"Any hotel that opens in the area is definitely a threat. However, the location where they stand and where we stand are two different things," said Sergio Roa, general manager of the Doubletree Guest Suites by the Market. 

The Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which competes with the likes of New Orleans and Jacksonville, Fla., in selling the Holy City to meeting planners, said the Riverview upgrade will strengthen its pitch. 

"We're certainly delighted, because one of the things we need is nice properties with meeting space. That's something we don't have enough of," said Perrin Lawson, deputy director of the Charleston CVB. 

JHM Hotels said it is concentrating on drawing new visitors, especially groups that want to be on the peninsula but don't have the budget to book meeting venues closer to the center of downtown. The company is planning on pricing its rooms at $130 to $160 a night, about half the price of Charleston Place and about a third the price of Embassy Suites Historic Charleston, which has almost as much meeting space. 

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(c) 2004, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. MAR, HLT, 


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