Hotel tower coming to EpiCentre

Add another to the growing list of hotels planned in or near uptown: Developers on Wednesday announced plans for a 20-story, 302-room hotel tower at the EpiCentre entertainment complex.

A partnership comprised of McKibbon Hotel Management of Florida and Charlotte-based Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management expect to start construction on the tower early next year. It will house two Marriott brands: a Residence Inn with 120 rooms and an AC Hotel with 182 rooms.

Project costs were not disclosed. A construction start date has not been determined, and it could take 18 months to finish the tower, project officials said.

Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management sold the EpiCentre earlier this year for $130.5 million to CIM Group, a Los Angeles firm that also owns the BB&T Center at 200 S. College St.

Vision and Mount Vernon, working through an affiliate group called Blue Air 2010 LLC, bought the complex’s $94 million construction loan in 2010.

Charlotte hospitality industry officials said Wednesday that having another hotel in uptown could help the city attract larger conventions. Sid Smith, executive director of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association, said Charlotte is sometimes not considered for certain meetings that require more rooms.

“There are some meeting planners that just won’t send RFPs (requests for proposals) to Charlotte because they know what our room count is,” he said.

The new EpiCentre hotel will join others that are planned or under construction in uptown, including:

• A 25-story hotel and apartment building to be built next to the Metropolitan development on South Kings Drive. Levine Properties

won approval for a rezoning

last month clearing the way for the project.

• A hotel planned as part of

a Crescent Communities mixed-use development

featuring offices and retail at Tryon and Stonewall streets.

• A 250-room Embassy Suites Hotels on which construction has begun at 401 E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

The EpiCentre hotel will be built near the Lynx light-rail line, atop a building where plans for a condo tower were scrapped in the economic downturn. Today, columns and other sections of unfinished construction sit where the hotel will go, on top of Gold’s Gym.

The Charlotte location will be among the first AC Hotels to be built in the U.S., according to a release Wednesday. AC Hotels, with locations across Europe, plans to open its first U.S. hotel in New Orleans this year. In the release, AC Hotels are described as catering to “cosmopolitan, urban travelers in a stylish, contemporary and sophisticated setting.”

According to project officials, McKibbon, Vision Ventures and Mount Vernon Asset Management will own the hotel. McKibbon owns and operates more than 80 hotels in 13 states, including Residence Inn by Marriott SouthPark as well as Homewood Suites and Hampton Inn by Hilton in Charlotte’s University City area.

It will be the second hotel at the EpiCentre site, where there is an Aloft hotel, a Starwood Hotels & Resorts brand.

Smith, of the Charlotte Area Hotel Association, said there are about 33,000 hotel rooms in the Charlotte metro area, with roughly 4,000 of those in Center City. More rooms are needed to house bigger events, he said.

“As an extreme example, let’s say there is a convention that wants 10,000 (rooms) upon any given one night. We cannot accommodate that in the Center City. Now if that meeting and convention is willing and amenable to their attendees being spread out throughout the entire Charlotte region ... we can accommodate them.”

The 2012 Democratic National Convention, which required about 5,500 room nights, “certainly stretched us,” he said.

“But we were able to accommodate them to great reviews. But that’s about the cap of size of meetings that we can currently accommodate and attract.”

Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority spokesman Laura White said there has been a shortage of hotel rooms in Charlotte lately, as business and leisure travel to the city is at an all-time high.

“It’ll definitely help alleviate some of the hotel inventory crunch we’ve been feeling,” she said of the EpiCentre hotel.

The addition of a hotel with a large number of rooms will also appeal to convention planners, who tend to prefer to put attendees in one hotel to keep the group together, she said.

“It’s easier for them to deal with from a contract perspective,” she said.