|By Tony Adams, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Aug. 16, 2005 - Columbus appears to be just weeks away from landing a full-service Marriott and upstart Hyatt hotel brand.
Crews used a crane Monday to take down the former Wyndham sign at 800 Front Ave. The logo of the Dallas, Texas-based lodging chain has been covered several months while Columbus-based Valley Hospitality -- the 177-room property's owner -- seeks to change its flag from Wyndham to the more upscale and recognized Marriott name.
In the interim, staffers have been referring to the downtown property as "Columbus Hotel."
Valley Hospitality management declined to comment Monday, although an employee answering a phone at the hotel hinted preparations are under way to become a Marriott.
"We're going through a conversion right now," the employee said.
That includes installing a Marriott sign atop the hotel and keeping it under wraps until an official announcement is made.
Hotel chains typically send in a conversion team in advance of the official unveiling of a new brand. The teams examine everything from reservation systems and customer service to room furnishings and extra amenities offered to guests.
Peter Bowden, president and CEO of the Columbus Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the hotel staff has been undergoing "very intense training" for several weeks in anticipation of a change.
Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott International also appeared to be playing the process close to the vest, with spokesman John Wolfe saying Monday that he had no information on the property.
Valley Hospitality has been talking with Wyndham International for months about being released from the brand. Calls to Wyndham in Dallas were not returned Monday. The chain is in the process of being purchased by The Blackstone Group -- a global investment conglomerate -- for $1.44 billion.
Last fall, however, Valley Hospitality listed itself as a Marriott in BellSouth's Real Yellow Pages telephone directory. It also was listed as Marriott in the Mini-Book Yellow Pages that debuted locally this spring. And the company advertised in Sunday's Ledger-Enquirer for various customer service, housekeeping, management and restaurant jobs. The ad referred to the "Full Service Columbus Marriott Coming Soon."
Amerisuites to be Hyatt Place
The Amerisuites hotel being built on the north side of Columbus, meanwhile, is a week from opening, local franchisee Bharat Desai said. But the 82-room property's name will be changed at some point to Hyatt Place.
Chicago-based Global Hyatt Corp. purchased the Amerisuites chain in early January with plans to revitalize it as a "leading edge" and "upscale" concept, according to the company's Web site. Renovation and rebranding is expected to begin late this year and be completed by the end of 2006, the Web site said.
For Desai, it might mean only cosmetic changes inside and replacing the exterior red neon Amerisuites sign that overlooks J.R. Allen Parkway.
"We just put it up and now we have to take it down," Desai said. "I think they will subsidize that a little bit. We don't know how long it is going to take to do the logo and change the standards of the hotel."
Amerisuites should open Aug. 23, said Desai, who is franchising the 2974 North Lake Parkway property with his brother, Charlie Desai. They also are franchisees of the 72-room Comfort Inn and 56-unit Comfort Suites in Columbus.
The new hotel is situated between El Vaquero Mexican restaurant and Texas Roadhouse restaurant.
The Convention & Visitors Bureau's Bowden also believes locating the Marriott brand adjacent to the Columbus Convention & Trade Center will help his staff sell the city to meeting and trade show planners.
"It will make that site visit a little more convincing," he said. "You don't have to sell as hard because there's that name recognition that Marriott represents first-class everything."
The convention center completed a $35 million expansion in 2004 and can handle up to 300,000 visitors a year.
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Copyright (c) 2005, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.
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