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Owners of Downtown Chattanooga's Clarion Hotel
 Seeking to Re-position the Hotel or Sell It

By Mike Pare, Chattanooga Times/Free Press, Tenn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

June 29, 2004 - Downtown Chattanooga's Clarion Hotel could be in store for big changes as its owner looks at repositioning the site amid the riverfront's growth or selling it.

Richard Aaronson, a partner in the hotel's ownership group, said it is looking at a possible multimillion-dollar renovation and a change in the Clarion's nameplate. The Doubletree Hotel flag is one of those under study, he said.

A sale of the hotel at 407 Chestnut St. also is possible, said Mr. Aaronson.

"With the location, it's gone from not particularly desirable to one of the most desirable" in downtown, he said.

The waterfront is undergoing a city-led $120 million revamp on both sides of the Tennessee River downtown. In addition, some private groups have announced projects expected to bring more housing, commercial and retail space to the area.

Mr. Aaronson said the hotel group is looking at an extensive renovation program at the Clarion, but the full scope may not be determined until later this summer.

"We hope by the end of the summer to make a decision," he said, adding the possibility of a sale of the hotel the group has held for about 20 years plays into the evaluation process.

The hotel sits adjacent to the 401 Building at Chestnut and Fourth streets, an office structure into which investors are plowing $10 million in renovations. That building's 430-space parking garage also is undergoing changes with new walkways to connect it to main building's third-, fourth- and fifth-story offices.

J.Ed. Marston, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's marketing director, said the possible work at the Clarion is another example of how the 21st Century Waterfront Plan is driving investment in the downtown area.

"We feel what we've got is a snowball effect," said Mr. Marston.

Already well under way downtown is an $11 million renovation of the Sheraton Read House at M.L. King Boulevard and Broad Street. In addition to a revamp of the historic hotel's 241 rooms, the Read House has added a Starbucks coffee house.

Also, a Porter's Steakhouse is slated to open within weeks in the Read House, which will also have a 25-by-50-foot indoor pool along with a 1,200-square-foot exercise area.

Jack Ward, a Read House owner, said an updated Clarion, or Doubletree Hotel, would mean more competition for his property.

But he said a Doubletree would work off of the same reservation database as the nearby Hilton Garden Inn. Both the Doubletree and Hilton Garden Inn chains are owned by Hilton.

Mr. Ward said one reason his group decided to affiliate with Sheraton is that it gave a five-year no-compete commitment.

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