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July 28--Old Town is getting an upscale five-story, 118-room boutique hotel, thanks to a bullish move by veteran local hotelier and real-estate investor Jim Long.

"It's a move that's a bit ahead of the market right now," Long told the Journal. "It's a forward-moving project. This is an expression of our commitment to invest in this community."

The new hotel is a substantial development play. Although Long declined to give an estimated cost for the project, HVS Global Hospitality Services's annual hotel development cost survey would put the total project cost at upward of $31 million.

Construction is scheduled to begin by late fall, with completion set for spring 2016.

Owned and operated by Long's Heritage Hotels and Resorts Inc., the proposed new hotel will be built on the vacant 2.6-acre site just northeast of Heritage's 11-story, 188-room Hotel Albuquerque at 800 Rio Grande NW.

'A destination opportunity'

The hotel will create about 100 jobs, ranging from management to service positions. Its guests likely will be either "leisure transient" customers -- travelers and tourists -- or group business customers, Long said.

"Honestly, I think this hotel may become a destination opportunity," he said.

Room rates will run about $160-$170 a night.

The new property will have its own name, identity and amenities, although its guests will have access to Hotel Albuquerque's meeting space and swimming pool. The new hotel's entrance will face the corner of Bellamah and 20th NW. Its working name is Hotel Old Town.

"This will be a step above Hotel Albuquerque," Long said, saying it will meet the standards of a Four Diamond Hotel by AAA.

The new hotel's amenities will include a "signature" restaurant featuring modern Native American cuisine, a rooftop restaurant and lounge with adjacent event space, a 6,000-square-foot spa, 1,200-square-foot fitness room and 3,000 square feet of retail space.

Albuquerque Hotel was built in 1975 as a Sheraton. Purchased by Heritage in 1999 and extensively renovated starting a year later, it has an average occupancy rate in the 80 percent range and is one of the most successful hotels in New Mexico, Long said.

A great location

"It's an ideal location," he said.

The addition of the new hotel's 118 rooms will bring the overall property's room count to just past the 300 threshold, which will give Heritage more flexibility in marketing Hotel Albuquerque's extensive meeting space, upward of 41,000 square feet, for conventions, Long said.

The hotel was designed by Gensler, a global architecture firm headquartered in San Francisco, and inspired in part by the ruins at Chaco Canyon. The design blends contemporary and traditional pueblo elements.

"Ancient masonry techniques have been incorporated into this project," says the company news release announcing the project. "Like the designs of Chaco Canyon, this hotel will be constructed so the property's solar orientation can make the most of the heat in the winter, and the coolness in the summer."

The hotel facade will step back at the upper floors, so that each room is recessed with access to a terrace. The interior color palette will be natural wool colors.

"Jim Long is on a mission to share with the world the uniqueness of New Mexico," interior designer Kris Lajeskie of Santa Fe is quoted as saying in the company news release.

"Jim challenged the design team to create a new vernacular in Southwest architecture and there is no question we succeeded. Gensler did a brilliant job in their interpretation of Chacoan architecture and my challenge was to create interior spaces that capture the essence of mother earth and the indigenous native culture."

Chaco inspiration

The news release also quotes Adam Gurnowski, design director at Gensler, saying Heritage's conceptual vision for the hotel resulted in "a one-of-a-kind property that embraces the spirituality, sensibility and legacy of the indigenous ruins of Chaco Canyon, while simultaneously striving for a contemporary sophistication."

In addition to Gensler and Lajeskie, the design and project management team includes the Dekker Perich Sabatini architecture firm of Albuquerque.

Albuquerque-based Heritage, which operates a portfolio of eight hotels in the state, has been on a roll so far this year.

Earlier this month, Virgin Galactic announced that Heritage's 203-room Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces in Las Cruces was its official hotel for space travelers at the Spaceport. In May, Long headed the acquisition by two investment groups of the 219-room Eldorado Hotel & Spa, a Four Diamond Hotel in Santa Fe.

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