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The 179 room Sheraton Augusta Hotel Drops Franchise;
Costs of Upgrading to Meet Sheraton's Standards
 too Expensive

By James Gallagher, The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

July 13, 2004 - Augusta has lost another premier hotel name.

After letting its franchise expire at the end of June, the Sheraton Augusta Hotel on Perimeter Parkway is now the Augusta Towers Hotel and Convention Center.

The 179-room, full-service hotel was built at a cost of $10 million in 1990 and opened to much fanfare in what was considered one of Augusta's fastest growing areas.

The hotel's owner, Columbia, S.C.-based Interstate Investment & Management Corp., said the costs of upgrading the hotel and convention center to meet Sheraton's standards were too expensive.

"The market just wasn't strong enough to let us do what Sheraton wanted," said Bert Pooser, preisdent of the company. "We kind of lived Masters to Masters over there."

The Sheraton is Augusta's third hotel this year to lose its franchise. The Holiday Inn on Stevens Creek Road recently became the Augusta Inn & Convention Center and the Holiday Inn Express on 15th Street is now the Medical Center Inn.

Barry White, executive director of the Augusta Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, said a dramatic increase in the number of limited-service hotels, which generally don't have restaurants or concierges, is partly to blame. The lower-cost hotels are drawing a greater portion of Augusta's tourists.

"When somebody can come in and get a good room and good value in a rate-conscious economy, it puts pressure on the full-service hotels," Mr. White said.

Mr. Pooser said his company is in the process of deeding the hotel back to the mortgage holder rather than continue operating it as an independent brand.

The 7.2-acre property is assessed for tax purposes at just over $9 million by Richmond County.

Mr. White said he thinks the hotel, because it is only 14 years old and features a restaurant and convention facilities, likely will be picked up under another mid-priced franchise, such as Clarion.

Should the hotel continue operating without a national name, it could have a tough time. Tourists and conventioneers often are less inclined to look for hotels without national names.

"People are comfortable with brand names," said Ted Torres, vice president of Wharf Enterprise, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based hotel consulting firm. "They know what they are going to get as opposed to the no name inn."

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