NABHOOD IS MOVING ON

The National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers won't meet at the Royal Palm in South Beach next year. Too big to gather at that Florida hotel again, NABHOOD is likely to get its members and affiliates together at a convention hotel in Atlanta, where powerhouse African-American entrepreneur Robert Johnson has a hotel; or in St. Louis, where NABHOOD Chairman Michael Roberts owns the Mayfair, a Wyndham-managed property next to a Renaissance and the city's convention center. Another possibility is a hotel owned by Pyramid Advisor founder and financier Warren Fields, a NABHOOD board member who addressed the recent NABHOOD conference. Fields last year bought nine Adam's Mark hotels. They are being converted to Marriotts or Hiltons.

The 9th annual NABHOOD conference was the best-attended yet. The major brands were there in force. So were consultants, financial advisors and developers both actual and prospective. Among the stars: NABHOOD Chairman Roberts and James Guillory, a Houston developer who opened his first Hilton last year.

The meeting took place July 20-23 at the Royal Palm, the hotel Don Peebles built. Peebles, a controversial African-American developer who's shifted focus from hotels to resorts and condominiums, recently sold most of his interest in the Royal Palm to David Falor of the Falor Companies. Sol Melia, the Spanish hotel company attempting to make inroads in the U.S. market, now manages the property.

This latest and most partisan NABHOOD drew 363 paying attendees, according to Andrew Ingraham, the affable, canny networker who launched the organization. Certain workshops were packed, like those on branding, financing and the growing links between historic black colleges and the hospitality business. The latest NABHOOD was far more overtly political than its predecessors: Alfonso Jackson, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a prominent African-American, gave a rousing presentation (his swipes at Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton were generally well-received), while Ken Mehlman, the executive director of the Republican National Committee, delivered what in effect was a stump speech for the Bush administration.

Like his new partner, Harry Alford, the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Ingraham is a Republican. He said he hadn't invited Howard Dean, Mehlman's Democratic counterpart, but that most of the mayors who addressed the gathering were Democrats.

He did not contact the DNC because “we did not feel that would have added to what we were trying to do,” Ingraham said.

Other partisan evidence: Alford's calling Michael Steele, the African-American lieutenant governor of Maryland, the “next governor.” Steele is a Republican. In addition, Mehlman name checked Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio's highest-ranking African-American Republican, as a candidate for governor. Charlie Crist, Florida's photogenic attorney general and a Caucasian Republican like Gov. Jeb Bush, also addressed the conference.

“We invited national officials…who we thought could help us develop and grow African-American hotels nationally,” Ingraham said. “This is about dollars. This is about changing our community.” On the dollar front, Hilton presented NABHOOD with a $25,000 check. Hilton joined Choice, Marriott, InterContinental Hotel Group, La Quinta, Starwood, Accor, Carlson, Best Western and first-time attendee Americas Best Value Inn at this NABHOOD. Many chains are offering incentives spanning the waiving of application fees to lowering royalty fees. There to consider hotel investment: entertainer Michael Bivins of New Edition and Bell Biv Devoe.

“I'm looking to learn, to bring the information back to my team who have money to see if this is something they want to do,” said Bivins, who called himself a “hotel scout.”

Ingraham sought GOP officials Jackson and Mehlman to explain “how we can take advantage of some of the programs that are available.” At the same time, he said, NABHOOD is working with Democratic Party members in cities where it's attempting to develop African-American-owned hotels; one of those is Norfolk, VA, where Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson and retired professional football player William Fuller are expected to announce details of plans to build a 240-room full-service Hilton Hotel. That announcement should take place by September. It's been years coming.

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