|By Steve Wartenberg, The Columbus
Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 22, 2012--It's hotel week, time to check in on the progress of two of the area's new builds: the New Albany Courtyard by Marriott and the Hilton Columbus Downtown.
Despite an abundance of rain in recent months, and all the mud and muck these downpours created, both projects are still on schedule to open this year, the developers say.
Site work began in November on the new Courtyard by Marriott.
"But all the excessive rain slowed us down. It was a mud pile for a while," said Pam Lindley, a business operations administrator with Hotel Development Services, the Oxford-based developer of the project.
Construction crews are installing the underground utilities and will soon begin to pour the foundation, she added.
"We expect to be open in eight to nine months from the time we pour the slab, so we're looking to open in November or by the end of the year," Lindley said.
The $12 million New Albany hotel will have 122 rooms, an indoor pool, a meeting space that can seat about 50 people and a restaurant.
It is located at the intersection of Forest Drive and Smith's Mill Road, just east of Rt. 62. It is surrounded by several office complexes and adjacent to the Mount Carmel New Albany Surgical Hospital.
This will be New Albany's first hotel and should help the city continue its impressive record of fostering the creation of large-scale business parks and jobs. A recently passed 6 percent bed tax will also create additional revenue for the city.
"We have created 3,500 new jobs since 2009, and 2,500 of them are new to the state of Ohio," said Jennifer Chrysler, New Albany's director of community development.
She added that 2.4 million square feet of commercial space are under construction in New Albany, including the Courtyard by Marriott, and that all these companies and their employees will create an instant customer base for the new hotel.
"The hotel will be a fantastic amenity for the community and one that's greatly needed," Chrysler said.
As passers-by have noticed, the Hilton Columbus Downtown's 14-story skeleton -- across N. High Street from the Greater Columbus Convention Center -- is now enclosed.
"That was our goal by the start of winter, to have it sealed so we could start the inside work," said Julia Hansen, director of sales and marketing for the $140 million, 522-room hotel.
The Hilton is still set to open by late September, Hansen said, but as a precaution against possible construction delays, "We're not taking any bookings yet until Oct. 15 and beyond."
The hotel has already booked about 35,000 room nights to groups, through 2018. The Hilton is not yet accepting individual reservations, but Hansen said it could by the summer.
"We've already exceeded the goal we set in 2011 for rooms by 15 percent," she said of the bookings.
The Hilton is vital to attracting larger conventions to Columbus, said Paul Astleford, president and CEO of Experience Columbus, the city's convention and visitors bureau.
"There are literally 900 trade shows and conventions we can now go after that we previously have not been able to get," he said of larger meetings that require more hotel rooms and services than Columbus hotels can currently offer.
"And this allows us to keep other trade shows and conventions that are starting to outgrow (Columbus) and that other cities have been targeting."
The opening of the Hilton will put increased pressure on Experience Columbus to book these shows. Without more meetings and the hotel guests they bring, the Hilton and the other hotels surrounding the convention center will suffer.
"Yes, it's more pressure on us, but also the political and civic and private sectors, as well," Astleford said, calling it a community effort that will economically benefit the entire city. "We'v e put ourselves in a position to compete."
Amenities of the full-service Hilton will include the Gallerie Bistro & Bar; about 25,000 square feet of meeting space, which includes a 12,000-square-foot ballroom; and a 1,500-square-foot executive lounge on the 14th floor.
There will be 48 suites, including 40 two-room suites that will be 586 square feet. The presidential suite will be 1,535 square feet, and the executive suite will be only a little smaller at 1,221 square feet.
Original artwork -- about 160 pieces by local artists, Hansen said -- will fill the hotel and fit in with the arts scene of the Short North.
One of the final phases of the construction process will be the glass-encased skywalk over N. High Street into the convention center.
"It will be spectacular and a work of art in its own right," Hansen said.
The Columbus project is the largest Hilton currently being built in the United States, Hansen said.
Astleford said, "I've been in this business 40 years and have seen many hotels that weren't well-planned and weren't built with a strategic plan for the future. This hotel is well-planned and strategic."
Construction Zone appears the fourth Sunday of each month. Material for this column should be sent in care of the author.
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