|By Doug Smith, The Charlotte Observer,
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Feb. 10, 2006 - EpiCentre -- an uptown entertainment center that will have the city's tallest condo tower -- is adding another wrinkle: a loft-style hotel for hip travelers.
Noble Investment Group says it will develop a new brand of hotel called "aloft" at College and Trade streets as part of The Ghazi Co.'s complex.
The Atlanta-based hotel owner/operator plans 12 stories stacked atop the three-story entertainment-retail complex.
Noble President and CEO Mit Shah said the 176-room hotel's loft-design rooms and focus on food, beverage and entertainment will combine stylish living with guest interaction.
Afshin Ghazi, president of The Ghazi Co., said, "This is the icing on the cake -- it basically completes our project."
W Hotels, a division of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, unveiled plans for the edgy aloft brand last summer. The first groundbreakings are to occur this year, and the first hotels are to open in early 2007.
Construction of the $25 million Charlotte project -- expected to take about 14 months -- will start when The Ghazi Co. completes the third level of the entertainment center, probably by the early fourth quarter, Shah said.
Aloft rooms will have nine-foot ceilings, oversized windows, workspaces, flat panel TVs , built-in sound systems and walk-in showers.
W Hotels officials say what travelers likely will find memorable is the hotel's focus on public spaces aimed at drawing guests out of their rooms.
"Our customers are more sophisticated and they expect more than just a place to sleep," said W Hotels Worldwide President Ross Klein in announcing the brand last summer.
Alofts feature, for example, a lounge and sunken conversation area called the Pit Stop, a 24-hour kitchen, a fitness center, a pool and a landscaped outdoor hangout called the Back Yard.
Neither Noble Investments nor W Hotels could quote specific room rates, but officials say alofts are designed to compete in a price range with Courtyard by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn.
In Charlotte, Courtyard Charlotte Center City quotes a daily room rate of $159 and Hilton Garden Inn Charlotte Uptown, $129.
The aloft hotel will be across Trade from Bank of America's 150-room Ritz-Carlton hotel, to open in 2008.
That's not a concern, said Noble's Shah, because as a luxury hotel the Ritz won't be competing for the same lodgers.
Noble's announcement coincides with an upswing in the lodging market. Last year, the Charlotte area reported a 9.2 percent increase in hotel occupancy, outpacing the national increase of 3.2 percent.
Shah said the company is still completing the design of the Charlotte hotel and hasn't selected a general contractor.
Noble invests in lodging, restaurant and entertainment facilities. In the past year it has begun development of or acquired $400 million in hospitality investments.
"We're excited about being a part of EpiCentre in such a great urban mixed-use setting," Shah said. "We think we will be a complement to the project."
The Ghazi Co.'s 3.2-acre redevelopment of the old convention center site also includes a 267,000-square-foot entertainment-retail center and a 53-story condo tower called 210 Trade.
Ghazi said the entertainment center should open this fall. He believes the entire project will be completed by the end of 2007.
Doug Smith's Notebook
-- Centurion Partners LLC sold its Northlite Commons II shopping center in Kannapolis to Boise, Idaho-based DBSI Discovery Real Estate Services for slightly more than $5.77 million.
Centurion will manage the remaining leasing for the 22,901-square-foot center, which has 4,000 square feet available.
-- Charlotte-based Allegiance Realty Corp. sold University South Center, a three-building office/warehouse park for slightly more than $5.97 million to Preferred Real Estate Funds.
The 113,683-square-foot park, build in 1986, is about 70 percent office space and 30 percent warehouse space. It's in northeast Charlotte near Interstate 85 and Sugar Creek Road.
CB Richard Ellis represented the buyer and the seller.
Doug Smith: (704) 358-5174; firstname.lastname@example.org
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