|By Julie Dunn, The Denver Post
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Jan. 25, 2006 - Walter Isenberg knows a few things about opening hotels.
The company he founded in 1984, Denver-based Sage Hospitality Resources, owns or manages more than 45 hotels nationwide, including the historic Oxford Hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott on 16th Street and the Executive Tower Hotel.
On Thursday, Isenberg will greet guests at the opening of his fourth downtown Denver hotel, the $44 million Residence Inn by Marriott at 17th and Champa streets. Its 229 suites range from studios to two bedrooms, rent for $129 to $209 a night and come with full kitchens, flat-screen televisions and wireless Internet.
Isenberg, a Kansas City, Mo., native, sits on the Downtown Area Plan steering committee, which is to guide downtown development for the next 20 years. He talked with The Denver Post about his newest property, the downtown hotel market and his philanthropic endeavors.
QUESTION: How has the Denver hotel market changed since you came to town more than 20 years ago?
ANSWER: Probably the most significant thing for downtown has been the residential boom. The fact that people live here has really created a 24/7 environment and a vibrancy.
Plus, there are the obvious demand generators that have been built that helped the tourism industry, including the Pepsi Center, Coors Field and the Colorado Convention Center. Twenty years ago, there just wasn't any reason for leisure travelers to come to downtown Denver. Now we're a real regional -- and even a national -- draw.
Q: This is the first hotel to open in downtown Denver in 30-plus years to be financed entirely with private money. What led you to make such a large investment in the area?
A: The downtown hotel-market demand has really improved, and we have a niche product, in that we're an extended-stay hotel. And this is a mixed-use project because we also have 450 parking spaces and about 4,000 square feet of retail. So that allows us to have other revenue sources that supported the overall development costs.
Q: Do you think the downtown hotel market can absorb the more than 1,000 hotel rooms that are scheduled to come on line over the next few years, given the fact that the 1,100-room Hyatt Regency Denver at the Colorado Convention Center just opened?
A: Absolutely. We've expanded the convention center, doubling its size, and built a headquarters hotel. The combo effect of those two things allows us to compete more on a national basis.
And even though the Hyatt Regency has added a lot of new supply to the market, it is going to be a new demand generator. There are a lot more conventions we can compete for now, which will help everyone.
Q: Sage Hospitality celebrated the opening of the Residence Inn by throwing a pajama party last week to benefit Mayor John Hickenlooper's Denver Commission to End Homelessness. How big an impact do you think panhandling and homelessness have on tourism in Denver?
A: Panhandling has a very negative impact on economic development in general, particularly to tourism. People don't want to walk up and down the 16th Street Mall and be harassed. So our focus is on finding a long- term solution to the problem.
Q: You started Concerts for Kids, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for groups such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. What is Sage's philosophy toward philanthropy?
A: One of the core values of our company is giving back to the communities in which we work and live. It's much more than just writing checks. It's getting out there and volunteering.
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