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Luxury hotels may be delayed across Atlanta
Atlanta Business Chronicle - by J. Scott Trubey Staff Writer


Fallout from the credit collapse could delay proposed luxury hotel developments for months if developers don't already have their cash in hand, hospitality insiders said.

The financial turmoil might lead to significant delays - possibly six to 18 months - for some of Atlanta's highly anticipated hotel projects as developers look for new sources of capital, said Debbie Cannon, the director of the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality at Georgia State University.

"There's going to be more hurdles to jump but that doesn't mean they can't jump them," Cannon said. Hotels that are already out of the ground, such as the W Atlanta Downtown, St. Regis Hotel Atlanta, Loews Atlanta Hotel and Hotel Palomar Atlanta, will still move forward.

Developers will have to put up more equity and have stronger plans to get deals through, Cannon said. Construction likely will still happen, though brands, development plans and hotel concepts might change.

At least nine major hotel projects - with a combined 2,600 hotel rooms valued at upward of $700 million - have been announced for Atlanta, but haven't broken ground. Many more have been rumored.

Ben Carter, the president of Ben Carter Properties LLC and developer of The Streets of Buckhead, said he would replace the planned Baccarat Hotel & Residences or another five-star-quality project with retail if he can't get financing by December. Carter said the 1 Hotel & Residences planned for the project's second phase will be delayed at least 18 months.

Representatives of two other hotels - Kessler Collection Hotels' Grand Bohemian in Sandy Springs and Toyoko Inn-Atlanta near Centennial Olympic Park - said their projects are moving forward as planned.

Developers of the Hard Rock Hotel at Centennial Olympic Park, the Buckhead Hilton and Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Midtown either did not return calls seeking comment or declined to discuss the financing and status of their developments.

Developers of Hard Rock Hotel pulled out of the Westside Tax Allocation District package last month, because they couldn't meet its deadlines, but insiders say they expect the project to happen.

Officials with BentleyForbes, the owner of the Bank of America building in Midtown, which announced it was considering a five-star-quality hotel for the building, said the company is studying the project's feasibility and declined to comment.

Mark Woodworth, the executive vice president of PKF Hospitality Research Inc., which monitors the health of the nation's hotel market, said he has not heard of any Atlanta deals going under, but deals are being delayed nationwide until financial markets stabilize.

Woodworth said his firm is working with a few hotel groups to assemble new sources of debt for hotels because of the turmoil on Wall Street.

"Right now there's no clear consensus that says when things will start to stabilize," he said.

Jim Stormont, an industry veteran and a partner with Grove Street Partners LLC, the developer of the $134 million Gateway Center, which features two hotels attached to the Georgia International Convention Center, said he expects delays in financing for some projects to take as long as 24 months.

"If they don't already have their ducks in a row and financing in place I don't think they're going to get financing any time soon," said Stormont, whose Gateway project recently received its financial backing.

Donald Ratajczak, a retired Georgia State economist, said hotel-room demand is declining while supply is increasing. Developers might see this as an opportune time to step back from their plans while financing is difficult to obtain.

PKF is forecasting demand to decline nationwide as a glut of supply comes on the market. Nearly 275,000 new hotel rooms are scheduled to come on line nationwide in 2008 and 2009, a 6.2 percent spike from 2007.

Woodworth said 2009 will be a down year, but Atlanta should remain ahead of the curve in terms of occupancy.

Even if development slows, the new hotels could be in a better position to come on line when the market begins to improve in 2010 and beyond, said Paul Breslin, the managing partner of Panther Hospitality LLC, a hotel development consulting firm.

"If you have capability to develop property over the next 24 months or 36 months, it's actually a great time to develop," Breslin said.

Toyoko Inn-Atlanta, a division of Toyoko Inn Co. Ltd. and Toyoko Inn USA, has the backing of Japanese banks to build an 861-room no-frills business hotel at Forsyth and Luckie streets downtown, said John L. Grim, who brokered the land deal.

The 40-story project will cost about $40 million and the company plans to open the hotel in 2010.

"I think their business model is strong enough; I don't want to say it's recession-proof, but it's very strong," said Grim, the principal of SpaceFinders Atlanta Group of Metro Brokers GMAC Real Estate.

Cannon and others remain optimistic for the future. Developers of these major projects she said "are such visionaries they are not looking at 2008 or 2009, but [2011 and 2012] when we expect to see an uptick."