|By Steve Lackmeyer, The Daily Oklahoman
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 7, 2006 - When John Q. Hammons speaks, you can't help but listen.
The Springfield, Mo., hotel developer sounds like a billionaire. He looks like a billionaire. But he's of a different generation of billionaires -- one in which a man's word and handshake meant something -- and attorneys and accountants are an inconvenience at best.
Hammons arrived in downtown Oklahoma City at a time when we weren't quite sure about our future. Residents had voted for a penny sales tax to make over the city. Hammons came and promised to build not just one but two new downtown hotels.
But after the initial post election euphoria following the 1993 passage of Metropolitan Area Projects, the projects became a public relations nightmare for city leaders. Almost every story seemed to include the phrases "over budget" and "behind schedule." And as the projects seemed to stall, so did plans for Hammons' promised hotels.
A couple of years later, I tested Hammons' resolve by reporting the Missouri developer was about to violate a development contract deadline with the city to build the first of the two hotels across from the convention center. I couldn't reach Hammons for comment before the story appeared.
But he called me when the story hit the paper.
"I'm not upset with you," he said. "You called a spade a spade. But I'm going to build this hotel. And when that's done, I'll build a second hotel when the city builds the arena."
Hammons kept both promises. And he has proceeded with plans to build a third hotel -- a Marriott Residence Inn -- along the Bricktown Canal.
Hammons' news releases typically come weeks after his projects make the news. He owns a company that operates hotels across the country, yet he still personally handles most interviews concerning his developments.
The big mystery in town now is his insistence that he plans to build a fourth hotel -- an Embassy Suites -- somewhere downtown, likely in Bricktown. Officials at the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority say they have no active discussions with the developer. Major land developers also claim to know nothing of any pending deal.
Hammons won't say much more about the Embassy Suites, other than an announcement will be made sometime this year. When pressed, he slyly responds, "I know where I'm going to build it, and I'm going to build it." He knows we want to know more. But it looks like he'll keep us guessing for a while.
Developers commonly announce projects that never become reality. Over the past few years, we've read about a Holiday Inn next to the Santa Fe train station, a 10-story hotel along the canal, across from the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, and a Bricktown condominium project that was to be called "The Factory."
All those projects were announced with great hype and anticipation, only to fade from existence as years passed. But when Hammons says he's going to build a hotel, even if the details remain sketchy, experience says we can expect something will happen.
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