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John Q. Hammons Proposed 14-story Embassy Suites Hotel Adjacent to
 Wilmington, North Carolina's New Convention Center Has Many Hurdles
 to Clear, Including Finding Financing for the Estimated $50 million Project

By David Reynolds, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 13, 2010 --Months after a developer proposed building a 14-story Embassy Suites hotel next to the new convention center, the deal with the City of Wilmington still hasn't been completed.

City officials had anticipated meeting with Springfield, Mo.-based developer John Q. Hammons last week to get an update on his plans for the hotel and his search for financing, according to a city e-mail. However, Hammons canceled the meeting that had been planned for last Monday, city officials said.

The challenge of financing an estimated $50 million project has been the primary hang-up on sealing the deal, said Steve Bridges, an assistant city manager for development.

Mayor Bill Saffo said he still hopes to meet with Hammons soon, and that he remains optimistic a deal will get done.

"We'd like for him to get down here at some point in time so we can finalize the deal and move forward," Saffo said. "We know he's capable, and we know his track record."

Bridges said he speaks often with Hammons by phone. The John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts company operates about 80 hotels nationwide.

If the proposal Hammons gave city officials in late January is finalized, the city would sell him land next to the convention center that's worth roughly $650,000, Bridges said.

The city has been seeking a developer to build a hotel beside the convention center for several years, and twice deals have fallen through.

In 2007, City Council declined an offer from Virginia-based Armada Hoffler after the company's hotel proposal switched from a Marriott to a Fairfield Inn, Bridges said.

Then in 2009 the city terminated a contract with Wilmington River Group LLC. One reason was that the company didn't provide a $1 million surety in time.

The $1 million financial pledge to ensure timely construction has also been a sticking point with the current proposal. Hammons has asked the city to waive the fee. Bridges said that issue would be discussed at a future meeting.

With the chances of simultaneously opening the convention center and a hotel long past, Saffo said the most important thing now is to take time to make sure the hotel deal is done right.

Meanwhile, he acknowledged the lack of an adjacent hotel could hurt the convention center's ability to book some large conventions.

"We knew going into this economic downturn it would be tough for anyone to get funding," Saffo said. "We're eager and ready to move forward."

David Reynolds: 343-2075 @StarNewsOnline


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