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Hotel firm investing $30 million by stadium: Dora Brothers specializes in properties on the fringes

March 6, 2006

The downtown hotel operated by Dora Brothers Hospitality Corp. is unlikely to be confused with the towering convention hotels that sit, literally, on the other side of the tracks.

While behemoths like the Westin, Marriott and Hyatt boast bustling restaurants, gleaming lobbies, meeting facilities and an attached walkway to the Indiana Convention Center, Dora's modest Best Western Hotel offers little beyond clean, comfortable rooms, continental breakfast and a short walk to the heart of Indianapolis.

Fishers-based Dora Brothers, however, is happy with its second-tier hotel status-so much so that the company is poised to pump nearly $30 million into the block just west of what will become Lucas Oil Stadium-adding two hotels and staying primed for further expansion.

"We're providing a comparable guest room product, but we don't have all the ancillary things like restaurants, bars and convention facilities," said Tim Dora, who owns Dora Brothers with his uncle, Bob. "If we didn't provide that ... there, those customers would be going to the suburbs [to stay]. I think we have a positive impact on downtown by bringing people downtown who wouldn't ordinarily have that option."

Dora Brothers hopes to bring a lot more of those people downtown in the coming years.

The company is starting work on a sixstory, 135-room Comfort Suites; an eightstory, 112-room extended-stay Staybridge Suites; and a three-level, 300-space parking garage to serve those hotels and the existing Best Western, which will be converted to a Holiday Inn Express and Suites by fall.

Its plans make Dora Brothers a big player in the capital city-quite an accomplishment for a company that traces its roots to the Covered Wagon Lodge, a single hotel that opened in Vincennes in 1958.

Dora planted its first hotel in downtown Indianapolis nearly 40 years later, when it opened a 143-room Comfort Inn and Suites on Capitol Avenue near South Street in 1996. Seven years later, it followed with the 108-room Best Western at Missouri and South streets.

The hotels were a bet that a moderately priced, limited-service hotel could succeed downtown amid the more expensive hotels vying to host convention delegates and events.

As much by happenstance as by planning, that original bet has paid off big for Dora. When plans for the new stadium were drawn up, they included the 2-3/4 acres underneath the Comfort Inn.

Rather than get into a lengthy eminent domain battle, Dora made a deal with the Capital Improvement Board, which then was overseeing the stadium project-take the Comfort Inn, but find more land for another hotel.

Eventually, Dora was paid $12.8 million for the Comfort Inn, now the site of a mammoth hole where the stadium will be built. CIB found and purchased 2-1/2 acres of industrial land along West Street for $2.2 million and sold the land to Dora for that price.

Even though its new parcel is smaller, Dora plans to do more with it.

At nearly $1 million an acre, making a profit on lower-priced hotels might seem difficult, but those properties typically have higher profit margins than full-service hotels, said Mark Eble, a hotel consultant with the local office of Philadelphia-based PKF Consulting. Payroll and other expenses are generally much lower in such hotels, he said, and in the case of extended-stay, rooms are readied for new guests less often.

"They are tremendously attractive to operators and developers if the market is generating enough demand for the rooms," Eble said.

Dora Brothers' two new hotels will open in 2007, a year before the new stadium and long before the convention center expansion is finished in 2011. But Dora doesn't expect to wait years for customers. The Comfort Suites will replace its earlier hotel, Tim Dora noted, and the Staybridge's five-night minimum stay will make it more attractive to business travelers than to tourists.

By building the properties with an eye toward expansion, Dora Brothers is also preparing for an influx of customers when the expanded convention center opens, Dora said. Wings can be added onto surface parking lots at the Comfort and Staybridge properties, and the parking garage will be built to withstand construction of additional levels later.

The company also purchased a lot and building at the corner of West and South streets. For now, the 15,000-square-foot building is being rented by Hunt Construction Co., the general contractor on the stadium project. When Hunt's job is finished, Dora will have the option of demolishing the building and putting up another hotel or selling the land for other uses.

Downtown Indianapolis is quickly becoming Dora Brothers' premier market, Dora said. The company owns or operates 15 properties: About half are clustered around interstate exchanges in Fishers, at Indianapolis International Airport and in Columbus, Ind. Dora also has hotels in Fort Wayne, Terre Haute and Illinois.

And the West Street project isn't its only work in progress. Dora Brothers also is converting one tower of the former Riverpointe Apartments near IUPUI into a Candlewood Suites. The $20 million project, a joint venture with Bloomington-based Pinnacle Asset Management, will bring 143 extended-stay suites to Riverpointe's north tower and extensively renovate apartments in the south tower.

Like Dora's other downtown hotels, the Candlewood sits just outside the action-on the west side of the White River between IUPUI and Haughville. But nearby Indiana University Hospital also draws customers such as families staying with patients and doctors completing short-term residencies, Dora said.

"We're kind of leading the charge on that side of the river," he said.
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