|By Tim Bryant, St. Louis
Post-DispatchMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 14, 2010--Hotel executive Bob O'Loughlin is wrapping up a deal to buy and renovate the Cheshire Lodge, the English Tudor-style inn that bills itself at St. Louis' most beloved hotel.
Beloved but "kind of tired," said O'Loughlin, chairman of Lodging Hospitality Management, which owns and runs 14 hotels, all but one in the St. Louis area.
O'Loughlin has the Cheshire under contract and hopes to complete the purchase in about 30 days. He declined to put a price on the sale or the cost of renovation but said all the Cheshire's rooms will be redone. The lodge's companion Cheshire Inn restaurant, which has been closed since 2006, might be demolished. Regardless, the refurbished Cheshire will have a restaurant, O'Loughlin said.
"There will be a restaurant operated by us," he said. "We'll retain the British feel. We'll have a European-style boutique hotel."
He added that he had considered affiliating the Cheshire with a hotel chain but decided to run it as a stand-alone inn.
Many of LHM's hotels operate under Hilton or Sheraton flags, but the company's properties also include the independent Seven Gables Inn in downtown Clayton. Like the Cheshire, the 32-room Seven Gables is a Tudor-style hotel.
The Cheshire deal is unfolding during better times in the St. Louis hotel business. STR Global, which tracks the U.S. hotel industry, reported that occupancy and revenue per available room, or RevPAR, grew in St. Louis in the last week of April.
St. Louis was among six cities that had double-digit increases in RevPAR, a key measure of market strength. STR Global said the St. Louis market's RevPAR rose 17.9 percent, to $52.65.
The other markets with double-digit growth were New Orleans, Nashville, Tenn., New York, Denver and Miami.
"April was a good month," O'Loughlin said.
He added that the region's hotel industry is headed toward a slightly better performance this year than last, which was poor because people cut back on travel as a result of the weak economy.
Since opening in 1964, the Cheshire, with its Fox and Hounds Tavern, has been among the area's quirkiest hotels. Its small parking lot is striped for British-style driving on the left. European antiques and knickknacks decorate the lobby.
A scene in last year's movie "Up in the Air," starring George Clooney, was shot at the Cheshire Inn, where dark-paneled walls are adorned with tapestries and pewter antiques.
The hotel lies on both sides of the line between St. Louis and Richmond Heights.
The Apted family built the 106-room hotel and expanded the restaurant that had started years earlier in a log cabin on the site. Dan Apted, the current owner, said his family's long experience with the Cheshire has run its course. He noted that he and O'Loughlin have discussed the sale off and on for several years.
"He wants to renovate the hotel and do some of the things we've not been able to do the last few years because of the economy," Apted said. "Let somebody else take a whack at it."
He added that once the hotel deal is completed, he will concentrate his business energy on the Creve Coeur Racquet Club, which his family has operated for decades, and the St. Louis Aces, the World Team Tennis team he owns.
While declining to say much about his plan, O'Loughlin mentioned in 2007 a $10 million Cheshire renovation that included a restaurant by Annie Gunn's owner Tom Sehnert and European-style shops.
But a deal for the hotel never got past the talking stage until recently.
He described the Cheshire as "iconic in the sense that it's been there a long time."
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