STAYBRIDGE'S HIGH-TECH TRIUMPH

When canny businessman Rick Kearney paid $4 million for 116 acres at the intersection of Interstates 90 and 10 a few years ago, even he thought it was a bargain. How good a deal it was comes clear when you visit Kearney's first hotel, the 104-suite Staybridge Suites Tallahassee. The extended-stay brand's 100th property is the centerpiece of Summit East, a “smart” campus Kearney and his associates are developing off that heavily trafficked intersection.

A gang of InterContinental Hotels Group executives, including IHG Americas President Stevan D. Porter, IHG Senior Vice President of Brand Management Jim Anhut and Staybridge Brand Management Vice President Robert Radomski, visited Tallahassee's first Staybridge Feb. 28 to celebrate Kearney's top-of-the-line take on IHG's upscale extended-stay offering.

Featuring such niceties as the sociability-stimulating Just Like Home theater, unique thin-client computer terminals in each unit and a warm update of the flag's traditionally residential décor, this Staybridge Suites overlooks a well-stocked pond in the high-tech office park Kearney is counting on for business.

“It's uncanny that as we were growing our company we needed an office that portrayed the professional image we felt we needed to be a national or even international firm,” says Kearney, a former IBM sales engineer. Now, he is president and chief executive officer of Mainline Information Systems, IBM's biggest reseller. Mainline sells the complete IBM product line to more than 4,000 customers throughout the U.S., giving Kearney's Tallahassee Staybridge a guaranteed market in the state capital of Florida. Because Tallahassee is also home to Florida A&M and Florida State University, government and education are expected to provide a lot of business, too.

“We were looking for a few acres of land to house our new office, and a few acres turned into 116,” says Kearney. “It was location, location, location. When I had the opportunity to acquire all 116, I realized I couldn't lose money.”

Kearney originally contracted for a Homewood Suites, but, according to Doug Artusio, head of management company Dellisart Lodging, ultimately settled on Staybridge Suites. Dellisart manages the Kearney property and five other Staybridges, making it the largest Staybridge manager outside IHG itself.

A coinvestment with IBM makes Kearney's Staybridge a test site for what Kearney calls the first “virtual desktop PC.” The Lenovo computers in each suite are tied to a central server so users don't have to bring their own PCs, their web browsers and software. That makes security a non-issue, which matters to business.

“You turn on your terminal and within seconds, the server allocates memory and boots a clean copy, factory-fresh, of all the software from the hard drive and provides you with a ready-to-go environment,” Kearney says. “There's no spyware, no viruses, no corrupted files. So you can browse the web, download MP3s, watch a movie, edit a PowerPoint presentation, and print to the business center. This is something we plan to market to our customers in general — as does IBM.

“And when you check out, the hotel, with one button, erases all of that. That memory, that disk space, your cookies, your links, your history, disappear as if they never existed.”

“I think it's great that we have the opportunity to test a world's-first technology” at the 100th Staybridge, says Porter, noting that high-definition TVs and granite countertops also make this property a “stepped-up Staybridge.”

“They conceived this as a mixed-use project,” says Jim Anhut, who conceptualized Staybridge, which debuted in 1998. “It wasn't a standalone hotel; they've got a fair amount of their own equity invested in an office building and business here. You got Tallahassee, a good market for hotels in general; extended-stay focus; and this delightful setting.

“If I'm staying somewhere for 10 or 15 nights, would I stay in the middle of an asphalt parking lot in a more densely developed area or would I rather look out over this seven-acre pond? I might drive another 10 minutes to stay here,” he adds. “The key is to get people to see it. That's where IHG comes in.”

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