The Commercial Appeal

CHANGE COMING TO HOTEL

City officials negotiatin­g hotel changes

- By Wayne Risher risher@commercial­appeal.com 901-529-2874

The convention center hotel in Downtown Memphis is due for new management and a new brand after 15 years as a Marriott.

The Memphis convention center hotel is in line for new management and a new brand after nearly 15 years as a Marriott.

Atlanta-based Davidson Hotels & Resorts, a hotel management company formerly headquarte­red in Memphis, is in final negotiatio­ns with hotel owner Host Hotels & Resorts of Bethesda, Md., on a longterm agreement to manage the facility.

The Memphis Marriott Downtown staff has been informing customers of a pending change to Sheraton, though that could not be independen­tly confirmed. Host corporate officials did not respond to requests for comment on their franchise plans.

Robert Lipscomb, city Division of Housing and Community Developmen­t director, said city and Memphis Cook Convention Center officials are in “active discussion­s with Host” regarding hotel changes, including plans for upgrades of the facility at 250 N. Main.

The city of Memphis owns the convention center and has a ground lease with Host for the hotel. The 600-room hotel, connected to the convention center by a pedestrian bridge over Main Street, is crucial to Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau efforts to bolster the tourism economy with bookings of convention­s and meetings.

The hotel changes come at a time when Memphis is trying to recover from the loss of its largest convention, the annual holy convocatio­n of the Church of God in Christ, which was moved to St. Louis in 2010, and staring at a behemoth new competitor on the convention and meeting scene, Nashville’s $ 585 million Music City Center.

Memphis convention center events drew 586,474 people in 2012, generating $83 million in economic impact and 93,102 hotel room nights, up 31 percent from 2011, according to the visitors bureau, which manages the center.

The Holiday I nn Crowne Plaza opened in July 1985 and became a Marriott in 1998 when it was bought by Host Marriott, later renamed Host. Host invested in a 200room, 13-floor addition and contracted with Marriott Internatio­nal, a separate hotel management company, to manage the property. Host is headed by

Richard E. Marriott, the 74-year-old chairman.

While hotel clients such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have circulated informatio­n about the brand changing July 1, the official timetable isn’t clear.

Said hotel director of sales Samantha Barnett: “The informatio­n we’ve been given is it will become a Sheraton,” but she wasn’t sure when a change would occur.

Bernie Murphy, senior vice president, business developmen­t at Davidson Hotels, said based on progress of negotiatio­ns on a management agreement, it appears changes won’t happen until perhaps midAugust.

“We are in final negotiatio­ns with Host about managing the property,” Murphy said. “The property is not being sold. Host will continue to retain ownership.”

Davidson made news two years ago when it announced it would move top executives to Atlanta because the Memphis airport’s shrinking service hindered the company’s ability to oversee 46 hotels in 23 states. The company left about 50 back- office employees in Memphis and manages the Memphis Hilton East on Ridge Lake Boulevard.

An exclusive contract to provide food and beverages for convention center events has been a key part of Marriott’s business at the hotel, and Murphy said Davidson is anticipati­ng that business rolling over to Davidson.

“We’ve been asked to assume all the existing agreements,” he said.

Murphy said it’s Davidson’s first opportunit­y to work with Host Hotels, and the management company is excited about being involved in the Downtown Memphis market, especially with Bass Pro Shops’ conversion of the Pyramid to an outdoor goods superstore and retail attraction.

Host has recently renovated the hotel meeting rooms and sky bridge connecting to the convention center, and more improvemen­ts are anticipate­d, Murphy said. “The next phase is the guest rooms, public spaces and corridors. They’re going to put some money into it.”

Lipscomb said he couldn’t discuss specifics but “the city is taking a very active role as well as the (Convention & Visitors Bureau) and the convention center board. These are all critical issues for the city, and yes we are in active discussion­s with Host to discuss and resolve all issues to our mutual satisfacti­on.”

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