NABHOOD ON A ROLL

The 11th annual meeting of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers packed the Atlanta Marriott Century Center July 19-22, signifying the giant strides NABHOOD has made since it began in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, where founder Andrew Ingraham, its sometimes reluctant but charismatic president and chief executive officer, is based.

About 600 people hobnobbed and made hotel deals during the conference, a session-filled, high-level event that now regularly draws representatives of all the major brands. Proving its magnetism was a full roster of executives from Accor North America, a brand trying to make up for being late to the NABHOOD party.

Ingraham said he expected about 10 hotel deals to be consummated during this NABHOOD.

This annual get-together has become quite a party these days; not only are major hotels being built by African-Americans, like St. Louis-based brothers Michael and Stephen Roberts, who own the Marriott where NABHOOD convened this year and last, and Houston's James Guillory, owner of Centrepointe Hotels, there seems to be plenty of money available from sources such as former Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson and Kenneth Fearn, managing partner of Integrated Capital LLC. In addition, NABHOOD is cementing alliances with its role model, the far larger Asian-American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), and the embryonic Hispanic Hotel Owners Association (HHOA).

A “child of southern black folks,” Fearn told the first day's general session that he wants to create a firm “capable of handling a $15-billion transaction,” as can Johnson's RLJ Development, the financing branch of a 125-hotel operation. “Be a student of the game,” he advised. “Everyone looks at hotels as a sexy place to stay.” But operational efficiencies and “great service” are key to a successful hotel, he said.

“People should look at us and expect us to be here,” Fearn, a NABHOOD board member, said of an organization clearly flexing its financial muscles. The dedicated entrepreneur said he should be the “norm.”

The poster boy for this NABHOOD was the towering William Fuller, a retired professional football player spearheading the $125-million Hilton Norfolk Hotel & Conference Center project in his home town of Norfolk, VA. In the making since 2001, the public-private partnership allies Fuller, the City of Norfolk and RLJ's Robert Johnson in financing, development and construction of the complicated project, set to open at the end of 2009. Centerpiece of the complex is a 240-key, full-service Hilton.

“The city would not be negotiating with me without RLJ standing by my side,” says the former defensive end for the Houston Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles.

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