|By Stephanie Warsmith, The Akron Beacon
Journal, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 24, 2010 --For the first time in 30 years, a new hotel is planned for downtown Akron.
The upscale, tower-style Marriott hotel will feature 10 stories, 120 rooms and be constructed beside -- and mirror the look of -- the Northside Lofts, Joel Testa, a local developer announced Wednesday.
"The hip, urban design will suit Northside well," Testa said in a press conference in the VegiTerranean, rocker Chrissie Hynde's restaurant on the ground level of Northside Lofts.
Testa, chief operating officer of Testa Co., also built and designed Northside Lofts and the new townhomes in this section of downtown, located on Furnace Street across from the block that includes Luigi's restaurant.
Construction on the Northside Marriott Courtyard, expected to cost $16 million, is slated to begin this winter and be completed by late 2011.
Mayor Don Plusquellic, who has been pushing for a new downtown hotel, said building a hotel is "one of the most difficult things."
"This is an opportunity to fulfill a need in the community," he said.
This would be the first hotel in downtown Akron since the Hilton Inn opened at Quaker Square in 1980. That was nine years after the old Cascade Holiday Inn -- now the Akron City Centre Hotel -- opened downtown in 1971.
The Quaker property -- at Mill Street and Broadway -- is now owned by the University of Akron, which has converted most of the rooms into student housing.
Not everyone greeted the plans for a new hotel warmly.
Akron business tycoon David Brennan, the majority owner of the City Centre Hotel, which formerly was a Radisson, said his hotel is "losing money every month."
"I wish them luck," he said. "There's not room for one hotel in Akron, much less two."
Others, however, are confident the new hotel will succeed, especially because of its ties to a well-known chain.
"The big thing is that it's flagged," said Susan Hamo, chief executive officer of the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitor's Bureau. "I don't want to slight those that are not, but, when you're traveling on business, you have loyalty to a brand."
Hamo, in fact, thinks there's room for a second, flagged hotel to accommodate extra downtown visitors, including those attending events at the John S. Knight Center. The number of events at the center rose from 132 in 2003 to 220 in 2008 and the number of visitors jumped from 280,000 to 427,000 over the same period.
'Another selling point'
For now, though, local government and business leaders are pleased to have one new hotel coming to town.
"This will be another selling point," said Dan Colantone, president and chief executive of the Greater Akron Chamber. "It has been very much needed in Akron, which has been underserved."
The new hotel's average daily room rate would be $120. Plans call for a three-story, underground garage, valet parking, a restaurant, a pool, spa and fitness center, and a small, private theater.
Plusquellic said Akron will provide tax-increment financing to assist the project, might help with additional parking and will look into ways to better connect this area with the rest of downtown, possibly including shuttle service. The city provided infrastructure improvements to this area when the lofts were built.
Testa said the Northside development has been his "dream project" for nine years.
"Unfortunately, my dream happened when the real estate market tanked," he said.
Testa, however, is pleased with the sale of the lofts, especially given the poor economy and how he hasn't dropped prices. He said 75 percent have sold, with 65 percent currently occupied and some still under construction.
Testa had planned to build a second tower of lofts but instead constructed less expensive townhomes. He said four of the seven townhomes that have been built have sold, with plans for 19 more.
Testa and others involved in the project think the new hotel will mesh well and enhance the development that's already occurred in the area.
"It's going to be dynamic," said G. Scott Gold, Marriott's area vice president.
David Buffam, chief executive officer of New Castle Hotels & Resorts, which will manage the hotel, predicted it will be a "market leader" within six months of opening. New Castle operates 60 hotels, including several highly rated properties.
"When you have a product that is unique and a magnet and make it part of an area that is a magnet, magic happens," Buffam said. "That will happen here."
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-993-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Beacon Journal staff writer Katie Byard contributed to this report.
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