|By Karen Smith Welch, Amarillo
Globe-News, TexasMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jun. 20, 2008 --A $12.7 million piece of the downtown revitalization puzzle could fall into place next week when the Amarillo City Commission considers pledging tax incentives for a hotel development.
The Center City Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone board of directors on Thursday unanimously endorsed granting $1.66 million in property tax rebates to Newcrest Hotels Ltd. once the company has completed transforming the 10-story Fisk Building into a Courtyard by Marriott.
Hotel development sits at the top of the city's downtown wish list alongside more housing -- amenities that could create the 24/7 activity needed to support increased businesses and projects.
"I think some more things are going to happen real fast now," board Vice Chairman Paul Harpole said.
The Irving-based developer expects to close its purchase of the historic building at 724 S. Polk St. in 30 to 60 days, Newcrest owner Chuck Patel said.
The sales price has not been disclosed, but the seller, F&A Realty of Ventura, Calif., placed it on the market in 2006 with a $2.2 million price tag, which included a parking garage and surface lot. The Potter-Randall Appraisal District lists the appraised value of the property at more than $1.1 million.
Renovations should begin in September, with an estimated opening of July 2009, TIRZ information said.
Rebates of property taxes generated solely by the improvements Newcrest makes to the building would begin in mid-2011 and span a 20-year period, city Finance Director Dean Frigo said.
The City Commission will consider the incentives at its regular meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday in Commission Chambers at Amarillo City Hall, 509 S.E. Seventh Ave. The Potter County Commission will review the proposal this morning and forward its comments to city officials.
Newcrest's plans call for a 108-room hotel targeting business travelers. It will contain a fitness center and spa, lobby, business center, restaurant and lounge, plus a Starbucks.
Marriott has made a 20-year commitment to the Fisk site, Patel said.
Newcrest owns and operates five hotels, has seven under construction and has 18 franchised properties in development, according to TIRZ information.
Amarillo got Newcrest's attention when market research showed strong hotel occupancy rates, room rates and travel dollars spent in the city, Newcrest Real Estate Director Robert DeShay said.
"Amarillo, last year around this time, had one of the fastest-growing lodging markets in Texas," he said, later adding, "There is over a million square feet of occupied office space within walking distance of the Fisk."
Those indicators combined with brisk event activity at the Amarillo Civic Center led DeShay to indicate to the board the company's wish to "be seriously considered as a very interested player" in the search for a future convention center hotel developer.
A convention center hotel has long been part of the city's downtown strategic plan. The consensus reached by the board and Newcrest is that the new Courtyard by Marriott would pave the way for another downtown market entry rather than detract from its potential audience.
"I think there will be a synergy," TIRZ board Chairman Richard Brown said. "When this hotel works, it will send a message that another one will also work."
The board's recommendation came in an 8-0 vote Thursday. Board members Lilia Escajeda and John McKissack were absent.
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