|By Kyle Stock, The Post and Courier,
Charleston, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Business News
Aug. 29, 2006 --Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., the lodging giant that owns the Westin, Sheraton and W brands, announced Monday that it will build a trendy 140-room property near Charleston International Airport with two Southeastern developers.
The hotel is set to open in summer 2008 as one of the first in Starwood's new "aloft" brand. The company said those properties that will "carry the DNA" of W hotels, an upscale Starwood offering launched in 1998.
Sree Hotels LLC, a Charlotte-based company that owns 30 hotels in the Southeast, and LTD Management Co., a Chesapeake, Va.-based business that owns 19 lodgings mostly in Virginia, are partners with Starwood in the deal.
Paul Sacco, Starwood's vice president of North American development, said the project will cost around $15 million, or more than $107,000 a room.
"We think that the aloft will provide a differentiated lodging alternative to what currently exists in that North Charleston market," Sacco said.
Patterned after the W properties, the aloft concept will forgo flowery
bedspreads and drapes in favor of a more modern look, including exposed beams, shiny steel, raw wood, 9-foot ceilings and a bar designed to "draw guests from their rooms to socialize," according to Starwood's promotions.
Starwood is also pitching the new brand in cyberspace, striking a deal to have a virtual version of the hotel replicated in Second Life, an online computer game played by almost 600,000 people. The company said the video game would work as a "design lab" where players could weigh in on the look and feel of the hotel before construction begins.
The North Charleston property is planned for a corner site at the Charleston Area Convention Center complex and International Boulevard. It would be the latest addition to a lodging boom in the area, as a number of hotel developers have jockeyed for space close to the airport, the convention center and the Tanger Outlet Center that opened at Centre Pointe last month.
Fennell Holdings, for example, has added 270 rooms in the last four years with its Hilton Garden Inn and a Holiday Inn it opened in January. Scott Fennell, chief operating officer, said Hyatt is eyeing land nearby.
"The hotels are performing well lately, and I think a lot of people see that and maybe just want to get into the mix," Fennell said. "It certainly concerns us. Hopefully, it doesn't get overbuilt."
North Charleston hotels were 78 percent full in the first half of this year, with an average daily rate of $89.21, according to the Center for Business Research at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. Guests booked close to 804,000 room nights in the area, an 11.2 percent increase over last year.
Starwood said it's not too concerned about supply and demand, given the uniqueness of its aloft brand.
"Whether the market is underserved by hotel rooms is one question," Sacco said. "But it is underserved in that area with this type of product."
The hotel giant is currently building aloft hotels in Lexington, Mass., and near the airports in Philadelphia and San Francisco. Starwood said it expects to build 500 aloft properties by 2012.
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