Thursday, August 28, 2008

New and renewed hotels keep visitors Downtown

Back in 1978, three decades before the ghostbar, when Downtown Dallas was a ghost town, when people, businesses, restaurants, theaters, and retail stores were fleeing to the suburbs, John Scovell's Woodbine Development Company completed the Hyatt Regency and Reunion Tower. The 60 sides of reflective glass and the ball on top of the tower have been seen by millions of people around the world during the opening credits of the television show, Dallas, and have come to symbolize Dallas' opulence to the world. In any language, people know Dallas.

"I would like to tell you how smart we were, and that we planned it. We just thought Dallas needed a hotel, and we got the idea of the tower from the Space Needle in Seattle and the Tower of the Americas in San Antonio," says Scovell.

Today, John Scovell, whose investment partner is Ray Hunt, is spending about $45 million to renovate the hotel, the tower and Union Station, and he's fired up about what he likes to call the new urbanism in Dallas.

"The fire is burning Downtown, no doubt about it. I may sound like a cheerleader but people are learning that Downtown is alive and well. "I'm one of those that believes the health of your city depends on its core. If the health of your city depends on its core. If the core is strong, that's the lifeline of the city. The common denominator of great cities is a great downtown."

"People like to be where people are," says Phillip Jones, President and CEO of the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, with its Live Large, Think Big campaign.

Jones says, "People are tired of Vegas, tired of Orlando, Chicago has lost its luster. In Texas, we're number one in attracting visitors for the third year in a row. Over the last 5 years, the number of visitors has doubled from about a half million to a million a year, and so far, we are 20% ahead of last year in future bookings." About 2 years ago, there were 2,000 hotel units Downtown. Now there are 4,000 and counting." Not bad for a soft economy with $4 dollar gas and signs of inflation.

The construction crane is once again the official bird of Dallas. Jones counted thirty two of them on the skyline a couple months ago. Trying to re-establish itself as one of the nation's top convention cities, Dallas is building hotels, condos, apartments, restaurants, shops, clubs, grocery stores (The Urban Market), and everything one needs to Live, Work, and Play, as the DOWNTOWNDALLAS slogan encourages.

"Dallas is a world class city that is positioning itself to be at the very top level," says Mayor Tom Leppert. "We're building a Downtown to be proud of exactly at the right time."

One of the projects the mayor is pushing is the Convenction Center Hotel, which has been talked about for 20 years.

Jack Matthews, CEO of Matthews Southwest is developing the 1200 room hotel, which will stand in what is now a parking lot at Lamar and Young Streets. Matthews believes it will be the new central meeting place in Downtown Dallas.

"Our mandate is to bring entertainment and services to the Convention Center, matching power with power to create a focal point, to get people out of their cars, and out walking, exploring the city. We are basically turning a lemon into lemonade. The more we can get people Downtown at night and in the morning, the safer the streets will be. Folks will be able to walk to the new lakes on the Trinity, to the West End, the funky South Side, and the bold new growth of Victory($3 billion investment), and they'll be entertained as they go." That's what Mayor Leppert likes to call "high denisty entertainment."

The Joule, a Luxury Collection Hotel on Main Street, close to Neiman's, calls itself "the first true designer hotel in Dallas," and it is a jewel.

A joule is a physics term, a measurement of work or energy. The Joule's owner, Tim Headington, who owns Headington Oil and Gas, wanted his hotel to reflect the energy that is coming back to downtown Dallas. All the art, photographs and sculpture in the 129 room hotel represents Texas energy production, from the oil derrick-like columns and the giant black iron rotating gears in the lobby, to the simulated solar panels, and wind turbine ceiling fans in the restaurant, Charlie Palmer.

One can rent the elegant, glassed-in Penthouse Suite for $5,000.00 a night. But even the genral public can swim in the 10th floor rooftop pool on weekend nights. The pool hangs eight feet over Main Street, with a full bar, a grille menu from Charlie's, comfortable terraces, cushions, and cabana chairs for lounging, and a great view of Downtown landmarks, including the Pegasus sign.

"This is a modern luxury hotel," says Shirley Dunn Hanks, Director of sales and Marketing. "Not trendy, and not traditional, but high end. A lot of people like the finer things in life in a modern fashion. That's us."

It's perfect for business travelers on an expense account. And, perhaps the biggest compliment of all, local people are coming to stay.

"We've got people coming in from Southlake, Frisco, and Allen to spend the weekend," says Dunn Hanks.

The Stoneleigh Hotel and Spa is undergoing major renovations. So is the Fairmont. The W and its ghostbar have become a Victory Plaza must "see and be seen" hot spot. Sheraton has purchased the Adam's Mark. People are once again putting on the Ritz, as in Ritz-Carlton. The Adolphus, a downtown stalwart is benefiting from the healthy competition.

Ted Hamilton of Hamilton Properties is transforming a 1920's warehouse, complete with concret ceilings and exposed brickwork, into Aloft, which he describes as "a hip, limited service hotel with a lofty feeling," at Young and Griffin Streets, about a block from the Dallas Convention Center, easy walking access to anywhere Downtown.

Hamilton says, "I'm very excited, very bullish about the revitalization of downtown Dallas. There is a synergistic relationship that is breeding life into the city, adding vitality to the streets.'