|By Tony Adams, Columbus
Ledger-EnquirerMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 10, 2013--Another piece of downtown Phenix City's redevelopment will begin Friday morning with the ground breaking for a 99-room Courtyard Marriott overlooking the Chattahoochee River.
That will be followed by the mid-July launch of construction on a Troy University building that looks to be one of the safest sites from stormy, tornadic weather on the river.
The $12 million hotel, being built by Phenix City-based RAM Hotels, is expected to be open and serving travelers, the military and business people by April 2014, if not sooner, said Mitesh "Matt" Patel, RAM's vice president and operations executive.
"It's crazy, you know. We're up to 11 hotels at RAM Hotels, and we're growing," he said. "Having a name like Marriott on a building that you own or to have it in your city, it makes a big impact. We went through a very rigorous screening process with Marriott. When Marriott welcomes you with their arms open, it's a very good feeling."
RAM Hotels already operates the Hampton Inn & Suites and the Days Inn in Phenix City. In Columbus, it has Home2 Suites by Hilton, Country Inn & Suites, Microtel Inn & Suites and Econo Lodge-Historic District. It also has another Hampton property and a Holiday Inn Express in Lanett, Ala.
Patel said the hotel, which is being built near the new pedestrian bridge that has yet to open, will have a conference hall that seats about 250 people.
"That's the real reason for this hotel to be over there on the river and in Phenix City, because we don't have a venue like that," he said. "Another thing is it's right there by the whitewater. And then we can't forget Fort Benning. The reason the hotels do good in Columbus is because of Fort Benning." The property will have the newest Courtyard prototype design, he said, with new colors and an ambience aimed at appealing to Generation X and Y guests, while taking care of the Baby Boomers.
"It's very, very trendy and very different," Patel said of the hotel, which will have a bistro eatery serving food and alcohol. The property will employ as many as 40 full- and part-time.
While the Courtyard Marriott will be open by spring of next year, it's future neighbor, Troy University-Phenix City, should be occupying the first 44,000-square-foot phase of its downtown campus building by the fall of 2014, said David White, vice-chancellor of the Phenix City campus. The school is currently located off U.S. Highway 431 near Chattahoochee Valley Community College.
"Our plans have finally been approved by the Alabama Building Commission," he said Thursday. "The hang-up there was that any buildings constructed after 1 August 2013 had to include safe rooms that could stand up to tornado-level winds of 250 mph."
White said the Phenix City project was the first in Alabama to face the new state building requirement that spun out of the tragic tornado outbreak in April 2011, destruction that left more than 60 people dead between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
"It's two large classrooms," White said of the safe rooms that are reinforced and have faux windows. "It's enough space, basically, for standing room when the building is at full occupancy. It looks like a classroom on the inside, but it's built like a bunker."
The vice-chancellor said the university expects to award the bid for the $10 million project in June, with construction expected to begin by the middle of July. Crews are already preparing the site, with pipes being installed.
White said a second phase of 44,000 square feet will be added at some point, likely by the year 2018, which will allow the university to completely vacate its current campus.
About 600 students, with 30 staff and faculty, will be part of the first wave of Troy's presence downtown, he said. After the entire project is finished, there will be about 1,500 students and 50 staffers.
The downtown area's redevelopment will also include W.C. Bradley Co.'s revival of Phenix Plaza shopping center, which the Columbus company bought for $4.5 million several months ago.
After years of planning, White said the excitement is starting to build for the entire effort.
"It's finally going to happen," White said. "It's going to change everything -- the university building, the hotel, the renovation of the shopping area, what the city's going to do with their Third Avenue and the parking garage. It's going to change the face of Phenix City on that corner. Two-and-a-half years from now, it will be like a city came out of the ground from nowhere."
(c)2013 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)
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