|By Jeff Swiatek, The Indianapolis
StarMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
February 3, 2010 --The first of four hotels opens today in the Marriott Place complex, a $450 million real estate bet that could make or break the Downtown lodging market.
The 168-room Fairfield Inn & Suites is the first batch of 1,626 rooms that will spill onto the market in the next year, all from the Marriott Place project at Washington and West streets.
The new supply comes at a time of declining occupancies among Downtown hotels, which are watching demand dry up from business travelers, tourists and convention-goers in the recession. The average Downtown room occupancy, which stood at 63.4 percent in 2007, slipped to 59.9 percent last year, according to Smith Travel Research.
Two years in the making, the Fairfield is actually a renovation of the old Courtyard by Marriott that stood there.
The eight-story Courtyard was gutted and remade into a Fairfield, a Marriott brand that caters to business and leisure travelers looking for modestly priced lodging. The TGI Friday's restaurant that was at the site for about 15 years reopens today as well.
The new Fairfield doesn't offer such costly amenities as a swimming pool or sauna but comes with a small business center where guests can log onto a computer and a dining area where free breakfasts are served up daily.
"The staff worked amazingly to get these rooms ready to sell," said general manager Kim Meyerholtz
The 25-person staff spent the past two weeks outfitting rooms with lamps, linens, alarm clocks, coffee makers and the like.
Meyerholtz said Tuesday she planned to personally inspect every room prior to opening, making sure every last item was in place and working.
"Everything is brand new in here. Every sticker tag had to be taken off things," said Meyerholtz, who has overseen three other hotel openings in her career.
With an average room rate of about $140 a night not counting discounts, the Fairfield will offer the lowest rates of the four hotels in Marriott Place. Two others in the complex, another Courtyard by Marriott and a SpringHill Suites, will open late this month.
The Fairfield is squeezed between the Courtyard and SpringHill to the west and the 34-story JW Marriott tower, which won't open for another year. Staff at the three smaller hotels wear common uniforms and will be trained to work at any of those hotels. Amenities will be shared as well, such as the pool at the adjoining Courtyard and SpringHill hotels that can also be used by guests at the Fairfield.
The sharing approach cuts expenses and makes it easier to schedule workers, said Meyerholtz. Four sales representatives also work for all three of the smaller hotels in the complex.
The hope by hoteliers Downtown is that Marriott Place won't steal business from them but will draw more and larger conventions to Indianapolis and boost tourist travelers, said Terry Sweeney, vice president of real estate development at Indianapolis Downtown Inc.
"This is an asset that as a group will help grow the pie, so there will be more bookings to Indianapolis as a result," he said.
The average Downtown rate last year was $108 per night, down 7 percent from the 2008 rate, according to Smith Travel.
Developed by White Hospitality of Merrillville and REI Real Estate Services of Carmel, the Marriott complex serves an expected increase in convention business as a result of a near doubling in size of the Indiana Convention Center to be completed later this year.
The TGI Friday's, which has been shut since 2008, features a remodeled kitchen and updated decor with items from the 1970s and '80s replacing displays from the 1940s and '50s, said general manager Michael J. Curatolo.
Before, "You saw a hockey skate Bobby Hull would wear. Now you see the Beatles," said Curatolo, who expects the restaurant to return to the top 10 percent in sales in the 1,000-store chain.
Call Star reporter Jeff Swiatek at (317) 444-6483.
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