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Marriott groundbreaking coming in March

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A proposed Marriott Courtyard hotel near the Elk River in downtown Charleston will cost $2 million more than originally planned to construct, but will also house nine additional rooms, the project's developer said this week.

Property owner and developer Charlie Wendell said the increased cost is a "reasonable number" since the initial $12 million price of the project "was an off-the-cuff estimate." The 73,000-square-foot hotel will increase in size from the preliminary 110 rooms to 119 rooms, he said.

Wendell said the additional cost and rooms came after he and others working on the project decided that a planned office building and parking garage just didn't fit at the location.

"The reason was, we spent an enormous amount of time and architectural effort in trying to fit an office building on the site with the hotel," Wendell said. "Frankly it just never fit. It would never work right. I eliminated the office building and increased the size of the hotel."

Wendell said he co-owns the property with Dickinson family heirs, including Nelle Chilton.

The groundbreaking for the hotel is now scheduled for the end of March, and construction will begin by the first week of April, he said. The hotel is expected to open no later than July 1, 2014. Wendell said the Marriott chain requested the Charleston hotel not to open until the first of July "per our franchisee with Marriott."

The Long John Silver's restaurant on Kanawha Boulevard East closed in December to help make room for the new hotel. The three-acre parcel sits between Virginia Street and Kanawha Boulevard near Clendenin Street.

"The Long John Silver's will be torn down so that coming down the boulevard you'll have a magnificent view of the hotel. It's going to be very, very nice looking," Wendell said.

Wendell, a Fayetteville native who has built 11 hotels across the state, said the direction the hotel will face has also changed since the project was announced.

At first, the hotel -- just off Interstate 64 beside the Elk River -- was supposed to stand parallel to Kanawha Boulevard and face Virginia Street. When it is completed, however, the hotel will be parallel to the Elk River, he said.

Unlike many Marriott Courtyards, which are U-shaped, this hotel will use the chain's newest design with a roughly rectangular footprint, Wendell said. The new look features stucco and brick exterior with a large canopy at the hotel's entrance.

The traditional courtyard, hence the hotel's name, will be located outside the back of the hotel along the Elk River.

"The more we worked with it, the more it became apparent for the hotel to have maximum utilization of the site and maximum aesthetic appearance, it really needed to be parallel to the Elk River and not the Boulevard and we're hoping the city is going to follow through with the walk that they have proposed," Wendell said.

In December 2011, city officials said they plan to extend the trail that runs along the lower Kanawha Boulevard walkway to the Elk River so that it stops at the back door of the Civic Center. The new path would feature lighting, benches and landscaping.

At the time, City Manager David Molgaard said, "It could be a people mover for people staying at the new hotel attending conventions at the Civic Center. So someone could walk all the way from Haddad Park to the Civic Center on the lower walkway, without going up on the road."

Wendell, too, said he envisions people walking from the hotel to the renovated Civic Center.

"Hopefully the city will do the walk that will be right below the [hotel's] courtyard on the riverbank and it will be well lit and manicured," he said.

Wendell said the Marriott Courtyard will benefit the Civic Center because it is in Charleston's tax-increment financing district, which is an L-shape surrounding the Civic Center.

Charleston City Council members passed an ordinance in March 2012 creating the city's first TIF district to fund improvements at the Civic Center. TIF allows government entities to fund economic development projects, using the estimated increase in property taxes that occurs because of the improvements of the district.

Improvements -- like the Marriott, the $15 million renovations at the Ramada Inn Downtown Charleston, the Charleston Town Center Mall's $7 million remodeling and the Chase Bank building's update -- are expected to increase the property taxes within the district, city officials have said.

"The fact that we have been a catalyst with the TIF district, all of that is very exciting. I am very appreciative of the efforts of Mayor Jones and the Charleston City Council," Wendell said. "I truly believe the Civic Center is an incredible element that is needed not only for Charleston but the state. Hopefully it'll spark other developments in downtown Charleston. Development begets development."

Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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