West Side Story
Standing in a cotton field in Glendale two years ago, Lynnie Green-Scheibeler thought John Q. Hammons was crazy. Why else was she standing in the Arizona desert? “Nothing but cotton fields and jackrabbits,” the 89-year-old Hammons recalls.
Then the general manager of his Embassy Suites in Lincoln, NE, Green-Scheibeler was there to check out the site of what is now the Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa. Hammons, whose legendary resumé stretches over 50 years and 175 hotels, wanted her to run it.
“I wondered what I did wrong in Lincoln,” she says. “I told him I didn't even think you could get mail here.”
Hammons saw the burgeoning traffic heading west after the opening of Loop 101, the new beltway that connected the greater Phoenix area, one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. He saw the newly-opened hockey arena in Glendale and the coming football stadium, the recent host to Super Bowl XLII. Hammons saw the perfect opportunity for a full-service hotel with expansive meeting space.
“He kept telling me to look at the vision,” Green-Scheibeler says. “He said this place was going to be a winner. He always tells me he won't build unless there's a market, but I joke with him that he is the one making the market. This is a home run.”
PICKING HIS SPOTS
Hammons' well-known rules for development are threefold: Never build unless there's a market, never build unless you have the best location and when you have command of those two things, design the facility to meet the market and location.
An addendum to the rules came 21 years ago, Hammons says, when he realized the importance of meeting and convention space with the emergence of the limited-service brand. Hammons started building full-service hotels with at least 50,000 square feet of meeting space. He looked for markets to support that near state capitals, universities and sports arenas — markets least affected by recession. His secret was simple: Follow the traffic.
“I'm going where the business is going and where the business will multiply,” Hammons says.
When the new beltway opened in 2001, it was easy to see what direction the headlights were shining. Glendale's population increased nearly 50 percent from 1990 to 2000, and has grown 12 percent since, reaching almost a quarter-million people and making it the fourth-largest city in the state. The Jobing.com Arena, home to the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes, followed in 2003 and the NFL's Arizona Cardinals christened their new home, The University of Phoenix Stadium, in 2006. In November of that year, the southwest's largest mixed-use development, Westgate City Center, opened its first doors.
Less than a year later, the Renaissance debuted in shouting distance of the 63,400-capacity stadium, the 17,563-capacity arena and the quickly expanding mixed-use development. Phase 1 of Westgate is nearing completion, with 280,000 square feet of retail space and 220,000 square feet of office space. The second phase will break ground this spring with more shops, restaurants and office space. Master developer Steve Ellman, the former owner of the Coyotes, also will start on Phase III with a 10-story tower of condos set to break ground in September. The project eventually will cover a half-square mile with eight million square feet of retail, residential and office space. The Renaissance, although technically not a part of it, is less than a football field from 17 bars and restaurants and a 20-screen cinema.
Hammons had found another market.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Green-Scheibeler knows all the interstate routes that run across the country north to south and east to west. That's a job requirement if you want to work for Hammons. She's been with him for 13 years, becoming the first female to open one of his hotels as a GM. The two talk almost daily.
“Mr. Hammons and I have a unique relationship,” Green-Scheibeler says. “We laugh about the freeways — but I know them all. We talk about sports a lot. I read the sports pages before I talk to him. I know he's going to ask me what's going on with Shaq (O'Neal, recently traded to the Phoenix Suns). It's always a test with Mr. Hammons.”
She was chosen to run the 12-story, 320-room Renaissance, built with more than 95,000 square feet of meeting space, a 24-hour business center, full-service spa, restaurant, bar, cafe and state-of-the-art fitness center with an indoor lap pool. The conference and media centers are owned by Glendale, but managed by Hammons.
The Renaissance, the only full-service hotel in Glendale, became the first to open at Westgate in October of last year. The previous record for advance bookings at any Hammons' hotel was $5.2 million. The Renaissance shattered that with $12 million on the books, which didn't even count the more than $6 million booked for the Fiesta Bowl and the Super Bowl. In the first 100 days, the hotel did $6 million worth of business.
Green-Scheibeler estimates that 80 percent of the revenue in the first three months came from group business. The problem, which no one's complaining about, is that with more than 95,000 square feet of meeting space, the hotel doesn't have enough rooms for everyone when the biggest groups converge on Glendale. Green-Scheibeler has sent some business to the only other hotel next to Westgate, the Hampton Inn that opened in December.
To avoid that overflow, Hammons is finalizing plans to build a 10-story, 200-room full-service hotel that could break ground in 120 days and open next year. “We have to have a companion property of equal status,” Hammons says. The new hotel will likely be connected to the convention center.
Former Westgate City Center spokesman Jeff Hecht says the goal is to have five hotels in or around Westgate with a total of around 1,200 rooms. Green-Scheibeler says no other hotels have broken ground yet, giving the Renaissance a huge head start.
“This is very traditional of John Q. Hammons Hotels,” Hecht says. “He's got a proven track record of site selection and this is just another example of him anticipating what's coming and being ahead of the curve. This is a testament to Hammons' vision.”
The same vision Green-Scheibeler couldn't see two years ago is now one she's helped make a reality. She calls Hammons a great mentor, but also points out he's still learning, too.
“People don't understand, he's always asking questions, always asking me what the young kids are doing and saying,” Green-Scheibeler says. “I told him the other day that when people ask why are you doing something, you tell them ‘That's how I roll.’ He asked ‘What's that mean?’ He always wants to learn and be a part of the younger generation and stay hip.”
Hammons was planning to visit the Renaissance to personally thank Green-Scheibeler and the staff of more than 350 for their hard work during the Super Bowl.
“He called me four times on Super Bowl Sunday to ask if the staff had gotten enough to eat, to tell me not to work them too hard, then to tell me to work them hard,” she says. “He cares. He wants to give back to the community and his associates.”
That's how John Q. Hammons rolls.
Plenty of Super Bowl Winners
The New York Giants were the big winners in Super Bowl XLII with the stunning upset of the New England Patriots, but Arizona hotels didn't fare too badly either.
The NFL's marquee matchup at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on Feb. 3 was estimated to bring more than 125,000 visitors to the state and over $400 million to the economy. Plans to host the event began in 2003 with the formation of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee, a private non-profit corporation that served as a liaison with the NFL in organizing local efforts in preparation.
Part of the committee's job was to lock in 19,000 hotel rooms with four-day minimums for Super Bowl weekend at normal market rates. (Note to any aspiring Super Bowl hosts: Besides having a beautiful stadium in a warm climate, or a dome, the metropolitan area must have at least 27,000 total hotel rooms within a 60-mile radius to even be considered by the NFL.)
Committee President Bob Sullivan, the former news director of the local ABC affiliate, said most hotels only offered up portions of their rooms at these rates, leaving them plenty of space for the premium rates they were able to attract. The Renaissance Glendale Hotel & Spa was not part of the original bid and didn't have any rooms locked in at those market rates, allowing them to sell around 50 rooms at $3,000 per night for the three-day weekend.
The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa on the Gila River Indian Community in Chandler and the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale secured deals with the NFL through a bid process. The Giants took over the 500-room, 26-suite Sheraton and the Patriots and other NFL officials and sponsors were guests of the 773-room Westin.
Both hotels could have gotten higher rates than the standard group rates they agreed to with the NFL. Sheraton Wild Horse Director of Public Relations Kristen Jarnagin and Stephanie Dowling, director of PR at the Westin, agreed the benefits of hosting the teams far outweighed what they may have lost in potential rates.
Jarnagin said the resort's other outlets (golf, spa and food and beverage) did extremely well with the players' friends and families throughout the week and that the Manning family (Super Bowl MVP was quarterback Eli Manning) rented out the hotel's premier restaurant, Kai, for a post-game party. Dowling added that the added exposure, from the media, and to the large influx from New England — a feeder market to the resort during the winter — was well worth it.
Sullivan expects the Bidwells, the owners of the Arizona Cardinals, to put in a bid for the 2012 Super Bowl. The stadium was built with hopes of hosting many Super Bowls.
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