New 150-Room Hotel Slated for Uptown Albuquerque

Feb. 12--A seven-story, 150-room hotel will be coming out of the ground late next month along Interstate 40 in Uptown.

Albuquerque-based Legacy Hospitality Inc. is building the Hilton Garden Inn to compete with established hotels like the 17-story Albuquerque Marriott and eight-story Sheraton Albuquerque Uptown.

"It was an opportunity we couldn't pass on," said Legacy president and CEO Aleem Kassam. "Uptown has not seen much new (hotel) development."

Legacy purchased the fouracre site 2 1/2 years ago for an undisclosed price. Since then, Legacy has worked with Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hilton Hotels Corp. and the city of Albuquerque to get the project approved.

"There were a lot of hoops to jump through," Kassam said. "We've had at least half a dozen site plans."

The project is expected to be completed in December.

Legacy actually has approval for two hotels at the site on Americas Parkway NE, just west of the Marriott and Buca di Beppo restaurant. The second hotel, which has not been determined, will include a parking structure, Kassam said.

"Great location, great visibility," said Mike Swasey, Legacy's vice president of operations, about the Uptown site. "When something sticks out on the skyline, it draws your attention."

Long overdue

Although a hub of commerce with its retail centers and midrise office buildings, Uptown has not seen a lot of hotel development.

The six-story Uptown Amerisuites, a Hyatt affiliate, opened 10 years ago with 128 rooms and 1,100 square feet of meeting space.

Uptown has two of the city's biggest hotels in the Marriott, with 411 rooms and 16,000 square feet of meeting space, and the Sheraton, with 264 rooms and 17,000 square feet of meeting space.

Still in the works is Hunt Building Corp.'s plan for a hotel at ABQ Uptown, the 20-acre mixed-use project that opened its initial retail phase last fall.

A water slide

A mid-price brand in the Hilton family of hotels, the planned 120,000-square-foot Hilton Garden Inn will be a franchise operation with a restaurant, lounge and 5,000 square feet of meeting space.

On its own, Legacy is adding a 20-foot water slide to the standard indoor swimming pool.

"The Hilton Garden Inn brand is known for its commercial clients Monday through Thursday," Kassam said. "This gives us the opportunity to acquire family business on weekends."

Legacy first experimented with the amenity at its sixstory Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites at Interstate 25 and Jefferson NE, which opened a year ago. The experiment proved a success.

The planned seven-story Hilton Garden, which is approved for an eighth-floor penthouse in the future, will be the tallest building built by the private sector here in more than two years. The nine-story Embassy Suites opened in April 2005.

The hospitality industry is building higher than anyone else right now for several reasons, starting with the cost of land, said Trevor Hatchell of CB Richard Ellis.

"Most of the hotel sites in this market range from 1 1/2 all the way up to three or four acres," he said. "In prime locations like this one in Uptown, the cost of that land can be quite high."

Coupled with high land costs is the need to build on a bigger, more expensive scale -- a national trend reflected in brand prototypes that keep adding floors. "Today, you typically have to build at least 100 rooms to make it a viable financial proposition," said Hatchell, who has been involved in five hotel deals in the past 18 months.

In light of the rising costs, a deciding factor enabling continued hotel development is favorable financing. "It's been very good for hotels," Hatchell said. "And there are still opportunities out there."

As of early last year, there were 196 hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and a portion of Bernalillo County, he said. "That number has since gone up by at least a half-dozen," he added.

N.M. roots

Although Legacy Hospitality is only six years old, its roots in New Mexico go back to 1978 through Aleem's father, now semi-retired Mohamed Kassam.

The family has developed close to 20 hotels in the state over the years but has sold most of them to pursue new opportunities, Aleem Kassam said. Legacy currently has seven properties in New Mexico employing 300-350 workers, he said.

One of the keys to Legacy's hotel development is having a related construction company, Alpha Legacy Construction, headed by Aleem's brother, Faizel Kassam.

They also have hotel properties in Canada and are scouting opportunities in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California, Aleem Kassam said.

The Hilton Garden project in Uptown, designed by Tafazzul Hussain of Albuquerque, will result in about 100 jobs, he said.

Copyright (c) 2007, Albuquerque Journal, N.M. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.