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More Room in the Inn: Convention Center expansion prompts downtown hotel growth

As downtown Fort Worth teems with hotel developments – from the Hampton Inn & Suites where the United Way building used to stand, to renovations of the Sinclair Building and Park Central Hotel – one would think downtown Fort Worth isn’t short on hotel rooms.

Or is it?

According to a 2014 study by real estate consultant Hunden Strategic Partners, downtown Fort Worth doesn’t have enough hotel rooms to remain competitive for large meetings and events. Downtown has ten competitive hotels – such as the Omni Fort Worth Hotel and the Renaissance Worthington – that collectively total 2,623 rooms, according to the study.

The study called for an additional 1,400 hotel rooms as well as renovation of the existing Convention Center. In response, the city has been making plans for an expanded Convention Center and adjacent 1,000-room hotel. City staff plans to give the Fort Worth City Council an update on the project on March 22, according to Kirk Slaughter, the city’s public events director.

It’ll be a while before ground is broken, though – funding for the projects may not be available until about 2022-2025, Slaughter said in a statement.

In the meantime, conventions and large events are continually showing interest in Fort Worth, said Mitch Whitten, vice president of marketing communications at the Fort Worth Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

According to the CVB, conventions often book a block of hotel rooms specifically for their events, and sometimes, the number of attendees is higher than the number of hotel rooms booked. For example, in 2015, the Premier Designs Annual Rally booked 6,841 hotel rooms and had about 9,500 attendees. The Southwest Veterinary Symposium Annual Meeting booked 4,666 rooms and had about 5,000 attendees.

The demand for hotel space can be a “good problem,” Whitten said. However, some conventions choose to not hold events in downtown Fort Worth due to the shortage of hotel rooms.

“It is not uncommon for conventions to fall in love with Fort Worth and not have space,” he said.

Part of the reason is that some conventions prefer having all attendees in the same hotel, Whitten said. He said he recalls one event needing to book in 17 different hotels to fit its guests.

But as the city waits for the 1,000-room hotel plans to take shape, smaller hotel projects are popping up around downtown, especially around the Convention Center itself.

For Andy Taft, president of the advocacy group Downtown Fort Worth Inc. (DFWI), the coming hotels are a welcome sight.

“The world has discovered Fort Worth,” he said. “Of course, there’s a lot of money following hospitality right now. I think we’re going to see an increase in the inventory of hotel properties at a variety of price points. Our challenge is to make sure that we continue to offer an appealing visitor package so that we fill up all of these hotels.”

Park Central Hotel

One of the oldest hotels near the Convention Center is in the early stages of redesign. Irving-based developer Icon Lodging is planning to reconstruct Park Central Hotel at 1010 Houston St. and turn it into a Fairfield Inn and Suites, with Dallas firm Mayse & Associates serving as architect. The group is working with DFWI and the city’s Downtown Design Review Board to complete the design. Mayse & Associates presented initial plans to the review board on March 3 and is expected to bring an updated design to the board’s next meeting in April.

The plan is to construct a new building using the existing frame, said Ron Smith, studio director at Mayse & Associates. The five-story hotel will be about 78,122 square feet with 114 rooms.

It’s a project that’s “a long time coming,” Taft said. Built in the 1960s, the building has aged over time and hasn’t gone through major renovation.

Online reviewers haven’t exactly been singing praises for the hotel, either. The Park Central Hotel grades 1.5 stars on Yelp and 2 stars on TripAdvisor.

“I think this is a rare opportunity to take something downtown that is not what it needs to be and bring it back up to what it needs to be – a great hotel for people to stay close to the Convention Center,” Smith said.

Sinclair Building

About a 10-minute walk from the Convention Center is another, higher-end hotel development – the 16-story Sinclair Building at 512 Main St., set to become a 164-room Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel.

The project has chosen a general contractor, said Farukh Aslam, manager at Sinclair Holdings LLC, which owns the hotel. He said he did not wish to reveal the contractor’s name, as no contract has been formally signed yet.

But before the project can begin seeking subcontractors, plans for the project need to be approved by the Texas Historical Commission. Since the Sinclair Building is considered historic – it was built in 1930 in Art Deco style – developers must follow a number of rules to preserve the building’s historic integrity. For example, nothing on the building’s exterior can be changed, the stone and marble throughout the building must be kept in place and the windows must be preserved, Aslam said. The building was designed by architect Wiley G. Clarkson and built by Harry B. Friedman.

The historical commission is taking a while to approve the hotel plans, though. Due to backlog of applications from other projects, a response that typically takes 30 days is taking about three to four months, Aslam said.

In the meantime, two furnished model rooms in the hotel should be finished by the end of the month, he said, and after that Marriott will come to inspect the rooms and suggest any changes.

Aslam said he hopes all the prep work can be done by the summer so construction can begin.

Still, he’s glad to be part of the hotel industry in downtown Fort Worth and can see why so many hotel developers gravitate toward downtown, he said.

“When you look at the existing performance of existing hotels in downtown, they tend to outperform the suburban markets of Fort Worth, so definitely there’s a shortage of supply,” Aslam said.

He said more hotels mean more business for Fort Worth, as guests take advantage of downtown’s restaurants and other attractions.

“It has a positive impact on the downtown economy,” he said.

But wait … there’s more!

The Park Central Hotel and Sinclair Building projects are still in the planning phase. But construction is already underway for the 245-room Hampton Inn & Suites at Commerce and Ninth streets, Taft said. Wisconsin-based developer The Raymond Group is heading the project. Taft said he watched as the old United Way building on the site was being torn down and stopped to take a picture.

Once the Marriott Autograph Collection Hotel at the Sinclair Building and the Hampton Inn & Suites are done, both hotel projects should add 409 hotel rooms in downtown. The Fairfield Inn and Suites at the Park Central Hotel will actually have fewer hotel rooms after renovation, going from 120 rooms to 114 rooms.

But projects abound surrounding downtown as well. A hotel and residential development could be coming to the corner of South Main Street and Vickery Boulevard. The plan, discussed at the 2016 annual meeting of Fort Worth South Inc. (now called Near Southside Inc.), calls for an apartment building with adjacent hotel and ground floor retail on the T transit parking lot. Taft said the project is in the early planning stages.

Taft said downtown Fort Worth has many other hotel projects in the works that haven’t been announced yet.

“There’s a handful of other hotels that are actively working to finish their designs and go in for permitting in downtown, some of them near the Convention Center, some of them not,” he said. “We can’t talk about them yet because they’re not public, but the interest in hotels in downtown is extraordinarily high.”

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