Lured by record growth in passenger traffic at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, two major national chains plan to open new all-suites hotels, and two others are considering building hotels in the BWI corridor.
Memphis, Tenn.-based Promus Hotel Corp. said it decided yesterday to build a 147-unit Homewood Suites hotel on Winterson Road near West Nursery Road. Construction of the hotel, which will cost $10 million to $12 million, is to begin in March, Promus said.
Its decision comes as Prime Hospitality Inc. of Fairfield, N.J., begins construction on a six-story, 128-unit AmeriSuites hotel on Aero Drive just north of the airport. The $3.9 million hotel is expected to open by fall.
At the same time, Host Marriott Corp. is considering building a Residence Inn, while Choice Hotels International is eyeing a possible Comfort Suites near BWI.
Construction of the new hotels -- the first in the airport area in at least five years -- reflects renewed confidence in the heavily industrial area, hard hit by the recession of the early '90s and the recent loss of nearly 8,000 jobs at Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Linthicum.
The economic climate in the Anne Arundel County corridor has improved dramatically and likely will continue to do so, say economic development officials and business leaders. They point to BWI's continuing expansion, the opening of more than a dozen industrial businesses in the past few years and the impending completion of Route 100 linking the airport with Interstate 95.
At the nine hotels surrounding the airport, occupancy rates that had plummeted just three years ago have steadily risen since. They now average about 77 percent, outpacing the Mid-Atlantic region and the nation, the BWI Business Partnership reports.
"We certainly haven't seen any new hotels in Anne Arundel County for a long while, and this says a lot about our location and what is going on here," said Jeanette Wessel, chief executive of the Anne Arundel Trade Council. "Certainly, the BWI area is booming area from a business perspective."
Hoteliers, business leaders and economists attribute the hotels' health primarily to the record growth in business and leisure traffic at BWI, whose $400 million expansion and improvement project includes a planned new international pier.
Fueled by discount fares, the number of passengers at BWI rose more than 2 million, to about 13 million, in 1994, making it the nation's fastest-growing major airport. Growth slowed but continued in 1995, with about 14 million passengers.
Michael Lofton, director of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., the county's quasi-government agency, said the hotels' interest came as no surprise. "I mean, it's the fastest-growing airport in the country in 1994, and it's seeing positive growth for 1995," he said. "That's built hotel occupancy rates way up -- enough for people to figure the market could stand some more competition."
Other hoteliers near the airport, as well as those in Baltimore, welcomed news of the new all-suite hotels and said they're not worried about losing business because of new competition.
They said that the "limited-service," all-suite hotels include no restaurants and cater primarily to business travelers staying more than five days, while most other area hotels target mainly leisure and convention travelers.
And with a $150 million project doubling the size of the Baltimore Convention Center, even some convention-oriented city hotels look to the new suite hotels to absorb the overflow created when large conventions come to town.
"The suite hotel is really a niche hotel, and they certainly aren't after our customer," said Robert L. Steele III, general manager of the Hyatt Regency on the Inner Harbor, a major convention hotel. "We absolutely could use more hotel rooms in the area, period, with the larger convention center coming on board."
Both Prime Hospitality and Promus said they expect overflow conventioneers to stay at the new hotels. Downtown Baltimore has about 5,600 hotel rooms, but conventions with as many as 20,000 delegates have already been booked for dates after next year's completion of the expansion.
But some warned that the area ultimately could face a glut of hotel rooms.
"We all got burned pretty bad three years ago; we were all pretty far down in the delta," said Lou Zagarino, owner and general manger of the Comfort Inn Airport. "I think before anybody gets too excited, we got to look real closely at what happens at Westinghouse and all that vacant space" at the Airport Square business park.
On Wednesday, Northrop Grumman Corp. announced that it has reached an agreement to buy the Linthicum-based defense arm of Westinghouse Electric Corp. for $3.6 billion. But Northrop Grumman predicted the purchase will safeguard the 8,000 Westinghouse jobs in the state.
Timothy E. Aho, Prime Hospitality's senior vice president for development, said he has no doubt the area can sustain more suite hotels.
"Obviously, the airport is a key economic as well as room-demand generator, and the hotels in that area are doing well," Mr. Aho said.
AmeriSuites will feature separate sleeping areas, living rooms with sleeper sofas, 26-inch stereo TVs, desks with data ports for computer hook-ups, refrigerators, microwaves and coffee makers. Along with an outdoor pool and exercise room, the hotel also will include a "business center" with computers and modems, a fax machine and 1,500 square feet of meeting space. Rates will range from about $80 to $100 a night.
Homewood Suites will feature two-room suites with kitchens, two telephone lines, two TVs and a VCR. The hotel will include an indoor pool and three small meeting rooms. Suites will cost about $90 a night.