City picks Marriott, passes on Pan Am plan:

January 1, 2007

A willingness to redesign and add rooms to its proposed JW Marriott hotel helped push locally based REI Real Estate Services and its partner over the top in their quest to build a convention headquarters hotel.

The team of REI and Merrillville-based White Lodging Services Corp. proposed building an 800-room JW Marriott as the centerpiece of a 1,500-room, five-hotel complex at the site of the existing Courtyard by Marriott hotel at West and Washington streets.

A city committee charged with choosing the best proposal for a new convention headquarters hotel picked the $250 million Marriott package Dec. 19. It won out over a 44-story InterContinental Hotel tower that locally based Browning Investments Inc. and a Milwaukee partner wanted to build on Pan Am Plaza.

The decision came down to "timing, financing and flexibility," said Bob Bedell, president of the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a member of Mayor Bart Peterson's Hotel Selection Advisory Committee.

Committee members said a variety of factors led to the decision, including the strength of the Marriott brand and White's willingness to consider redesigning its JW Marriott to include 1,000 rooms instead of 800.

The White-REI team also is able to begin work on the project immediately, because it owns the land. Browning-Mar cus did not yet own the parking garage under its proposed project.

"We believed the JW Marriott product was going to meet the time line and be open by 2010," said Barbara Lawrence, director of the Indianapolis Local Public Improvement Bond Bank.

The city is expected to offer rich incentives-in the $50 million range-for the project, which is slated to open about the same time as a $275 million expansion of the Indiana Convention Center.

The Bond Bank will begin negotiating a letter of intent with the developers, which it hopes to finalize by the end of the year. The Bond Bank wants to have a project agreement in place by February.
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