Developer still growing despite economic climate

Published: Tuesday, May 5, 2009 7:00 am By: Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

When Jeff Penner set out to develop a string of hotels along the Oklahoma River two years ago, the economy was buzzing and occupancy was riding along a five-year boom.

Now that two of three waterfront hotels are set to open along SW 15, just east of Meridian Avenue, the economic climate isn't nearly as friendly.

"It's very different than when we started," Penner said. "But Oklahoma City has been very fortunate. We're not seeing nearly the impact that the East and West coasts have seen. Occupancy is down, but rates are holding. The bottom hasn't fallen out."

Penner hopes the Staybridge Suites and the Holiday Inn and Suites, an approximately $15 million development, will appeal to traditional visitors to the Meridian/Interstate 40 corridor who are looking for something different during their stay.

The 103-room Staybridge Suites are an extended-stay operation - "more like apartments you rent out," Penner said. The 147-room Holiday Inn, meanwhile, has corner rooms with an open view of the river and a lounge and patio that connects directly to the river's shoreline and trails.

The target opening is July 1.

More work to come
More hotel development along the river corridor is to follow. Excavation of old debris is under way as a precursor to construction starting up on an adjoining Hampton Inn. Penner said his development has one more pad left for either a fourth hotel or a restaurant.

Another developer, Champion Hotels, meanwhile, is building a Marriott Fairfield Inn and a Marriott Townplace Suites at Meridian and SW 15.

Pat Downes, development director for the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, sees more opportunities ahead with the extension of SW 15, which parallels the river, to MacArthur Avenue.

"The extension, coupled with close-by access from I-40 and I-44 will make this area enticingly attractive for hospitality development," Downes said.

"While we've not been completely immune to the slowdown, there isn't a week that goes by where we don't see an inquiry about restaurants and hotels. It's the river view that makes opportunities for development in this area more and more palpable," he said.

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