published Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Hotels look to ride recovery wave


* Number of hotel rooms -- 218 Wi-Fi-equipped rooms

* Room rates -- $94-$149

* Source of customers -- Corporate travelers and passing motorists

* Plus - Hotels feature recreational fields within walking distance, heated indoor pools and Jacuzzis, as well as new prototype "Perfect Mix" lobby designs.

The new Hampton Inn and nearby Holiday Inn Express at the Ooltewah exit on I-75 suffered a slow start in a recession year, but owner Ben Frizzel believes new manufacturing and an improving economy could enable him to expand.

"We were originally planning to do three hotels at once, and decided to hold off on the third because of the downturn," said Mr. Frizzel, who also wants to build a convention center on the property. "Of course when we started the project, we didn't know about Volkswagen."

Mr. Frizzel expects his hotels, which are adjacent to one another, to begin approaching capacity around the same time the nearby Volkswagen plant is set to begin production, in early 2011.

"When Volkswagen opens, we hope to get a little boost from that, we are already seeing some suppliers and contractors using the property, and in the future it will be a greater benefit," said Mr. Frizzel.

With economic prospects improving, Mr. Frizzel has begun talks with several major restaurant chains to give customers more eating options within walking distance of the hotels.

"We're working on four restaurant sites on that same property that we're pursuing to complement the hotel, to bring more of a full service feel," said Mr. Frizzel.

Though Mr. Frizzel is cautiously optimistic, construction on the third hotel won't start for at least another year.

"We have a spot for a third hotel that we hope to develop within the next three years," said Mr. Frizzel.

Bob Doak, president and CEO of the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the area owned by Mr. Frizzel has potential.

"When you look at Volkswagen, when you look at leisure travel picking up, you look at the softball fields at Summit, I think it's a good formula for growth in that area and for overall hotel business in Hamilton County," Mr. Doak said. "Chattanooga has fared very well during this economic slowdown, and compared to other markets we've outperformed our competitors quite well."

According to Terry Ammons, general manager for the Ooltewah Springs Hampton Inn, the hotels are well positioned to take advantage of additional customer demand.

"We had the respective brands come in to do feasibility studies, they both felt like there was a place in the market for the hotels in Ooltewah based on population growth and future industrial development," said Mr. Ammons.

The two hotels have a combined capacity of 218 WiFi-equipped rooms, and each hotel holds a theater-style meeting space for 50, according to Mr. Ammons. Pending construction of the third hotel, the adjacent land has been converted into a recreational field, and will play home to a gazebo, pond and walking path in the future.

"Once it's all finished, we anticipate this is really going to be a destination," Mr. Ammons said. "People are going to go out of their way to stay in this area, they might come stay here just because of what we have to offer."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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