|By Damon Cline, The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 9, 2005 - The market's most upscale hotel will be a little more so beginning next year.
Owners of the Radisson Riverfront Hotel Augusta and the adjacent Country Suites Riverwalk Augusta announced Tuesday they have signed a franchise agreement with Marriott International Inc., the world's largest hotelier in terms of revenue.
The two properties will operate under a single brand name, the Augusta Marriott Hotel & Suites, beginning in late January.
"We think this will be a great addition to downtown Augusta," said Paul S. Simon, president of Augusta Riverfront LLC, the owner of the hotel and conference center complex.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. A phone message left with a Marriott spokesman was not immediately returned.
The Radisson Riverfront and County Suites properties, with a combined 373 rooms, have been affiliated with Radisson franchisor Carlson Companies Inc. since the hotels opened in 1992 and 2001, respectively.
Augusta Riverfront Vice President Darryl C. Leech, general manager of the properties, said the decision to align with Washington-based Marriott came last year following a $2.3 million renovation project at the 10-year-old Radisson Riverfront.
"Radisson was a great brand for us as we were growing," Mr. Leech said. "Now we can compete at a higher level. Everybody knows Marriott as the 800-pound gorilla in the hospitality industry." Marriott, which last year posted $10 billion in sales, operates 2,800 hotels worldwide, compared to Carlson's 945. Marriott's 69 percent occupancy rate exceeds Carlson's 61 percent while its 25 million member customer loyalty program is eight times larger than Carlson's.
Marriott's brands range from select-service and limited-stay hotels such as Courtyard by Marriott and Fairfield Inn, but its flagship Marriott Hotel brand is in a category with other upscale chains such as Hilton, Hyatt and Westin.
"It's a much more recognizable brand," said Barry White, director of the Augusta Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. "They're much more prestigious hotels." Augusta Riverfront LLC said it will make minor enhancements to the properties before unveiling the Marriott signs, including upgrading all bedding and building a concierge room for VIP guests.
The conversion will not affect the company's previously announced decision to convert its Columbia, S.C., property, the former Columbiana Hotel and Conference Center into a Radisson franchise.
Augusta Riverfront LLC is a subsidiary of Azalea Development Corp., which is headed by William S. Morris III, the chairman and CEO of Morris Communications Co., the parent company of The Augusta Chronicle.
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