|By Tony Adams, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
July 23, 2004 - Glancing around at a crowd gathered for the official opening of the Hilton Garden Inn Thursday, Glenn Davis, one of the property's owners, made an off-the-cuff comment that fit perfectly.
"As the umpire says, 'Let's play ball,'" said Davis, who spent 18 years in professional baseball, about 10 of those years in the major leagues.
Davis, also a Columbus councilor, and the hotel's other managing partner, Dhan Parekh, both Columbus residents, aren't just looking for a hit with the $10 million venture. They're looking to smash a home run and turn fledgling Cascade Hospitality LLC into a bonafide player in the hotel ownership and operating arena.
The 120-room Hilton Garden Inn has been open only two weeks, but Davis already is hinting there's more to come. He said there are plans to have five of the upscale Hilton inns in the Cascade stable. And with rights to other Hilton nameplates, he said Columbus remains a market ripe for new lodging, especially in the downtown area.
"We see the need," Davis said. "We're starting to understand what the visitors coming in to Columbus want, what they demand and what the need is in this market."
And for those who might take Davis and his investment group lightly, consider that Major League Baseball players have 81 regular season road games each season. That's plenty of stays at hotels that may or may not be hospitable.
"You name it, I've stayed in that hotel," he said.
The new Hilton is situated on the back side of Brookstone Centre office park, a W.C. Bradley Co. development. It overlooks a lake with walking trails. The exterior is a stucco material with stacked stone accents. The interior is a modified Hilton Garden Inn design with an oversized lobby and decorating touches by Davis' wife, Teresa.
For the city, it adds to a collection of 3,000-plus rooms that can be rented to visitors in town for reunions, conventions or on business.
"What this Hilton Garden actually does is raise the benchmark once again in Columbus," said Peter Bowden, executive director of the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It gives Columbus a better destination package to sell."
The property's timing could be right on the mark. Business travel has been declining since 1999, when a recession began nibbling at the economy's heels. The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States put the industry in a tailspin, but the Travel Industry Association of America expects the sector to rebound with a 5.7 percent increase in trips this quarter over a year ago.
Locally, tourism and visitation contributes about $174 million to the economy, Bowden said, and affects 3,500 jobs.
Davis said the new Hilton Garden fits right in with his mentality of contributing to the local economy while earning a profit at the same time.
"This is our baby here," he said. "Would we put these amenities into a property anywhere else? No. We knew we had to do it right in our hometown."
NEW HOTEL IN TOWN: Hilton Garden Inn is located in Columbus at 1500 Bradley Lake Blvd. inside Brookstone Centre office park. It is being managed by Atlanta-based Noble Investment Group, which also manages a 300-room Crowne Plaza in Atlanta's Buckhead district, a 400-room Marriott outside Nashville, Tenn., and a 450-room hotel and convention center under construction near Raleigh, N.C.
The Hilton Garden has 120 rooms and is situated on a lake. Its amenities include 11 suites, five Jacuzzi rooms, full-service restaurant, indoor pool, workout facility, meeting space, wireless Internet and shuttle service. Rates currently start at $99. Telephone: (706) 660-1000.
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