|By John P. McDermott, The Post and
Courier, Charleston, S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 1, 2007 - Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., in an effort to extend its urbane W Hotels concept to smaller cities and suburban markets through a less expensive new brand, has broken ground on its first "aloft" property in South Carolina.
The 136-room lodging near Charleston International Airport is to open in summer 2008 as one of the first in the newest addition to the Starwood stable, joining names such as Westin, Sheraton and St. Regis.
As many as 500 aloft hotels are planned by 2012, the company said.
The North Charleston property is being developed by a joint venture between Sree Hotels LLC and LTD Management Co.
Sree is a Charlotte-based company that owns 27 hotels in the Southeast and is developing six more. Chesapeake, Va.-based LTD Management Co. owns 19 lodgings, mostly in Virginia.
Starwood has estimated the project near the rapidly evolving Centre Pointe mixed-use development will cost around $15 million, or slightly more than $110,000 a room.
For Sree Hotels, which already owns several hotels in South Carolina, the aloft deal marks its first venture in the highly competitive Charleston lodging market.
The hotel will add more fuel to the lodging boom in the area, as a number of developers have planted their flags around the airport, the convention center and the Tanger Outlet Center. Vinay Patel, a vice president for the company, said those factors continue to make the Centre Pointe area highly attractive for hotel operators.
"It's a tourist destination yet it's also a business environment, so you have a nice mix of both business and leisure travelers ... If you rely on one or the other, you suffer on the weekends or the weekdays," Patel said Thursday.
Starwood has said its aloft properties will "carry the DNA" of W Hotels, a pricey, upscale chain the White Plains, N.Y.-based company launched in 1998, mostly in big cities.
Room rates at the North Charleston aloft will probably run between $125 and 150 a night, Patel said.
"It's kind of for the folks who don't want to pay the price they would ... at a W," he said.
Starwood views chains like Courtyard by Marriott and Hilton Garden Inn as aloft's primary peer group. The company feels its new concept will be "significantly different" from most existing hotels in the local market, said spokeswoman Leila Siman.
"We refer to aloft as an easy, refreshing oasis ... It's a fun brand," she said.
Starwood is aiming for a sleek, contemporary look at its aloft brand, including exposed beams, shiny steel, raw wood, nine-foot ceilings, oversized windows and a "communal" lobby bar. It also will feature a suite of hookups for the latest electronic gadgetry.
Siman said the company honed and refined some of the details and amenities with suggestions culled from players of a promotional online game that featured a virtual version of an aloft hotel.
"It was tremendous feedback vehicle for us," she said.
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.
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