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Hotel derailed

Owners of the Texas & Pacific Terminal on Lancaster Avenue said Thursday that they have scrapped their plans to turn the building into a railroad-themed hotel but will still pursue a redevelopment of the building.

Ed Casebier, managing partner of Renaissance Development Co., said the owners have backed down from the project because the city wants to finance the construction of a $75 million hotel at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

Renaissance Development asked the city more than a year ago to back the $50 million renovation with a special redevelopment authority that would issue tax-free bonds. Casebier said his group believes it got its answer a few weeks ago, when the City Council agreed to continue with the planning and development of the convention center hotel.

"The whole atmosphere has changed," Casebier said. "We'll get something to work. We're not going to abandon the project, but the hotel is in the past."

City officials have said the convention center hotel is their priority and would consider the group's request for the authority only if doing so didn't interfere with those plans. The T&P building, at East Lancaster Avenue and Throckmorton Street, is near the convention center, just south of the Fort Worth Water Gardens on the southern edge of downtown.

Assistant City Manager Mike Groomer said Thursday that the city looked at the T&P project and mapped out several scenarios that included both hotel projects, which could bring between 700 and 900 high-end rooms to the market in the next few years.

"The economy at this point in time makes it very difficult for the city to support both," Groomer said.

Mayor Kenneth Barr said the city doesn't want to get deeply involved in two hotel projects.

"It's obvious a convention center hotel has to be our top concern," Barr said Thursday.

The city is in the middle of a $72.9 million renovation and expansion of the convention center at 11th and Houston Streets. The first phases are expected to be completed in 2003.

Casebier said he is disappointed, and he contends both hotels would be viable. But he and his partners don't want to wait until mid-2002 to see if the city goes through with the convention center hotel, he said.

"We've worked for two years to try and get things done," Casebier said. "We're sitting on an empty building, and we can't do that anymore. We need to do something we can finance and it get done."

Casebier said his group, which includes Fort Worth businessman Tom Blanton, has already invested $2 million in the project.

They acquired the landmark 12-story office building and passenger terminal in 1999. They purchased the property from Halden Conner, who in 1978 bought the building and neighboring warehouse with John O'Hara for about $2.5 million.

Last October, the group announced its plans to turn the vacant building into a 300-room hotel that would feature 12 1930s-era sleeper cars as guest rooms and a refurbished vintage T&P engine in the lobby.

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts had expressed interest in operating the hotel, which could have been ready by late 2002 or early 2003.

The building in December will become the western Metroplex terminus for the Trinity Railway Express.

Doug Harman, president of the Fort Worth Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the softening economy may be playing a part in the city's decision to withhold support from the T&P project.

"The Sept. 11 events have had an impact," Harman said. "It has certainly made it harder in the financial markets for a project like this. The convention center hotel is certainly a very high priority."

Market research has shown that the hotel is achievable, and the community has shown strong support, but nationwide little money is available from the financial communities for large hotel projects.

Todd Walker, vice president of Source Strategies, a San Antonio-based hotel consulting firm, said even though the hotel market in Fort Worth is good, it's still a tough sell.

"The climate is really bad to get financing right now," Walker said. "Financing is not there for new developments."

Under the proposed financing deal, the authority would own the hotel and the developers would hire a hotel management company. In 10 years, the hotel would revert to private ownership and go back on the tax rolls.

Don Scott, president of Fort Worth South, a private development district, said he also is disappointed that the hotel project has fallen through.

"That seemed to me to be an extraordinary, cataclysmic project for Lancaster Avenue," Scott said. "It's a loss."

Casebier said his group may go back to its original plans of converting the building into apartments, or consider a franchise-operated limited service hotel.

He said he is confident that his group can obtain financing for the apartment project.

Sandra Baker,(817) 390-7727 [email protected]


Copyright 2001 Star-Telegram, Inc.

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Sandra Baker