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BWI seeks developer for airport hotel

As demolition of an old airport hotel nears completion, BWI seeks developer for a new one

Aiming to stay competitive for jet-set travelers, the Maryland Aviation Administration is seeking a contractor to build and operate a hotel at BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The agency is offering a site within a short walk of the airport where it wants a developer to build a 200- to 250-room lodging that would enhance the airport architecturally while providing a high-end, convenient option for travelers.

It would replace an older hotel about a mile away that closed in 2013 and is being demolished.

Officials say BWI needs to stay competitive with other airports that have added upscale comforts catering to fliers.

"We want to provide a true on-airport, high-quality hotel for the benefit of our customers," airport CEO Paul J. Wiedefeld said in a statement. "A full-service hotel with efficient access to the terminal would offer an important service for travelers."

BWI, the busiest airport in the region, has been working to raise its international profile, especially since last year when its largest carrier, Southwest Airlines, entered the overseas market.

The state has plowed hundreds of millions of dollars into improving the Anne Arundel County airport. BWI is in the midst of a more than $100 million project to expand its international terminal, and the state has set aside $200,000 to study whether that investment should be doubled.

Last year, the number of international travelers increased about 3.4 percent after growing 20 percent in 2012 and 2013, said airport spokesman Jonathan Dean. In the first three months of this year, traffic already has spiked 22 percent, he said.

The new hotel would be located on a 2.5-acre lot next to the airport's hourly parking garage.

The site is about a mile closer than the former Four Points by Sheraton BWI Airport hotel, which closed in 2013 at the end of a 30-year lease when no new operator expressed interest. The demolition of that 201-room structure, which opened in 1966, is nearly complete. According to the former operator, that facility was in need of a major renovation.

Dean said the new hotel's location — adjacent to the airport — would set it apart despite the existence of more than 30 other hotels within just a few miles.

The request for proposals envisions a 50-year lease with a minimum $33,333 monthly payment for the property to the aviation administration. The lot is currently a parking lot used by employees. The hotel needs noise-proof windows and can be no taller than about 100 feet, to keep the air clear for incoming planes.

The agency expects to select a developer by the end of the year. The project will not receive public financial assistance.

Krystal Duncan, director of marketing and communications for the BWI Business Partnership, said she thinks there will be high demand from leisure and business travelers for such a hotel.

"I definitely think there is market demand here for another property to offer both [rooms] and meeting space," she said.

Nationwide, the hospitality industry is enjoying a boom, filling hotel rooms even as rates rise. The annual occupancy rate reached 64.4 percent last year, according to the research firm STR.

In Anne Arundel County, occupancy rates were even higher, hitting 72.7 percent in 2014, while revenue per available room grew more than 8 percent.

Those kinds of numbers make developers and investors eager to find additional sites, said Jan Freitag, senior vice president at STR.

"Airports would ask this question no matter how the hotel industry is going, but hotel developers are interested in looking where to build," said Freitag, adding that a place that doesn't require travelers to wait for shuttle could be a plus.

The area around BWI has seen tremendous growth in the last 20 years, with the addition of the Arundel Mills mall and the Maryland Live casino. Anne Arundel County has more than 80 hotels, and has added eight since 2009 — more than 900 rooms, according to STR.

nsherman@baltsun.com

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