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Hotel projects starting again

The Great Recession put new hotel projects in the deep freeze in metro Atlanta and nationwide.

But developers are warming again to the idea of building hotels.

The area around Perimeter Mall is getting a new Hyatt hotel. Downtown and Alpharetta also are on developers’ radar, and several hotel properties in the metro region are getting extensive overhauls and new brands. Alpharetta officials also are studying a possible hotel and convention facility.

It’s a sign business travel is improving, though the national meeting and convention business is still struggling. Companies are beginning to refill empty office space in most Atlanta neighborhoods, and they are spending more to bring clients and workers here to do business.

Many major markets across the Southeast, including Atlanta, are enjoying improved occupancy, and hotels are getting more money per night for their rooms.

Metro hotel occupancy stood at 61 percent at the end of 2012, up from 59 percent a year earlier, according to data from Smith Travel Research provided by the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“When you have a lot of people visiting town, people will want to start building stuff,” William Pate, president and CEO of the ACVB, said in a recent interview with the editorial board of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Pate said 70 percent could be a special milestone in attracting new development. Occupancy figures for intown neighborhoods, including downtown, were at 67.1 percent at the end of December. That was up from 64.9 percent for 2011.

The average daily room rate for a metro hotel room was up 3.6 percent compared with a year earlier, and up 5.5 percent in the city.

Smaller hotels that don’t have meeting facilities or full-service restaurants continued to be built through the recession, but developers now “are dusting off pre-recession plans” for full-service hotels, said Scott Smith, a senior vice president with hospitality consulting group PKF Consulting in Atlanta.

However, Smith said, “construction financing is still difficult to get. That’s still the main hurdle.”

The recession was a gut-punch to business travel hubs like metro Atlanta — where hospitality had an economic impact measured last year at more than $12 billion, according to the ACVB.

Large-scale hotels can employ hundreds of people and guests dine and shop in the communities they visit, spinning off business to metro neighborhoods.

Last decade’s real estate arms race included several high-rise hotels in metro Atlanta that helped to shape the city’s skyline. But as the recession hit, and companies canceled conventions and pared back their spending, development went from a torrent to a trickle, dashing or delaying several high-profile projects.

The city was left with a glut of hotel rooms when projects planned during better days came online. Premium names like the Mansion in Buckhead and Hotel Palomar in Midtown opened and quickly changed ownership or management companies amid a challenging operating environment.

But while metro hotel occupancy is still below its 2007 peak, in core markets like downtown, Midtown and Buckhead, it’s up as much as 17 percent from the trough in 2009.

Revenue per available room, a key industry metric, is up 21 percent in Atlanta, according to data from the ACVB.

The ACVB has set a goal of attracting 20 conventions annually to Atlanta, up from a typical year of 15. Those conventions fill hotel rooms across the city for several nights and help fill local restaurants. Atlanta is on track to meet or exceed 20 in several upcoming years, officials said.

David Marvin, president of Legacy Property Group, a major player in downtown real estate, is in the early planning stages for another downtown hotel in the Luckie-Marietta area near the Georgia World Congress Center.

His company also is part of a team developing a 176-room Hyatt hotel in the Perimeter Summit office complex near Villa Christina. The campus is in the newly incorporated city of Brookhaven, near Ashford Dunwoody Road and I-285.

The Hyatt hotel is slated to open in April 2014, and it would be the first newly built full-service hotel in that area in more than 20 years.

The floodgates for new hotel development in the metro area aren’t opening, Marvin said, but deals are happening where the business trends are favorable.

“The projects currently in development are ones we’ve been working on through the recession and they finally came together,” he said.

The former Hotel Midtown is being renovated to become another new Hyatt hotel, and a Le Meridien opened in February in a refurbished facility in Dunwoody that was formerly a W hotel — among other brands.

In Alpharetta, city officials ordered a feasibility study to evaluate whether a hotel and convention center might work, Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard said. He cautioned that the city’s analysis is “still very early in the process,” though preliminary results have been encouraging.

Separately, North American Properties is planning two hotels as part of Avalon, the massive mixed-use development in Alpharetta at Ga. 400 and Old Milton Parkway. One will be a four-star level luxury hotel and the other a smaller limited-service property.

North American principal Mark Toro said his firm is looking at a brand such as Westin or Marriott Renaissance for the 300-room hotel, with a brand such as Hotel Indigo or a boutique Marriott brand for its 150-room second hotel.

The hotels are part of the second phase of the development, which includes hundreds of high-end apartments, single-family residences, luxury retail, a Whole Foods grocery, a movie theater and high-grade office space.

The hotels likely would not open for a few years, and by that time it will have been about 15 years since the last full-service hotel opened in the Alpharetta area, Toro said.

“There is pent-up demand just by the lack of product,” he said.

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  • Declaring 'the start of a new era' in energy production, President Donald Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that he said would revive the coal industry and create jobs. The move makes good on his campaign pledge to unravel former President Barack Obama's plan to curb global warming. The order seeks to suspend, rescind or flag for review more than a half-dozen measures in an effort to boost domestic energy production in the form of fossil fuels. Environmental activists, including former Vice President Al Gore, denounced the plan. But Trump said the effort would allow workers to 'succeed on a level playing field for the first time in a long time.' 'That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again,' Trump said, during a ceremony at the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters, attended by a number of coal miners. The order initiates a review of the Clean Power Plan, which restricts greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The regulation, which was the former president's signature effort to curb carbon emissions, has been the subject of long-running legal challenges by Republican-led states and those who profit from burning oil, coal and gas. But just as Obama's climate efforts were often stymied by legal challenges, environmental groups are promising to fight Trump's pro-fossil fuel agenda in court. Trump has called global warming a 'hoax' invented by the Chinese, and has repeatedly criticized the power-plant rule as an attack on American workers and the struggling U.S. coal industry. In addition to pulling back from the Clean Power Plan, the administration will also lift a 14-month-old moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. The Obama administration had imposed a three-year moratorium on new federal coal leases in January 2016, arguing that the $1 billion-a-year program must be modernized to ensure a fair financial return to taxpayers and address climate change. Trump accused his predecessor of waging a 'war on coal' and boasted in a speech to Congress that he has made 'a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations,' including some that threaten 'the future and livelihoods of our great coal miners.' The order will also chip away at other regulations, including scrapping language on the 'social cost' of greenhouse gases. It will initiate a review of efforts to reduce the emission of methane in oil and natural gas production as well as a Bureau of Land Management hydraulic fracturing rule, to determine whether those reflect the president's policy priorities. It will also rescind Obama-era executive orders and memoranda, including one that addressed climate change and national security and one that sought to prepare the country for the impacts of climate change. The administration is still in discussion about whether it intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Trump's order could make it more difficult, though not impossible, for the U.S. to achieve its carbon reduction goals. The president's promises to boost coal jobs run counter to market forces, such as U.S. utilities converting coal-fired power plants to cheaper, cleaner-burning natural gas. Trump's Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt, alarmed environmental groups and scientists earlier this month when he said he does not believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. The statement is at odds with mainstream scientific consensus and Pruitt's own agency. 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'These executive actions are a welcome departure from the previous administration's strategy of making energy more expensive through costly, job-killing regulations that choked our economy,' he said. Former Vice President Al Gore blasted the order as 'a misguided step away from a sustainable, carbon-free future for ourselves and generations to come.' 'It is essential, not only to our planet, but also to our economic future, that the United States continues to serve as a global leader in solving the climate crisis by transitioning to clean energy, a transition that will continue to gain speed due to the increasing competiveness of solar and wind,' he said in a statement. ___ Associated Press writer Michael Biesecker contributed to this report. Follow Daly and Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MatthewDalyWDC and https://twitter.com/colvinj ___ This story corrects the number of coal mining jobs in the U.S. to 75,000, not 70,000.
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