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Worthys to build 15-story hotel downtown

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 12, 2012, 5:21 p.m.

Developer and hotelier Walt Worthy will build a 15-story, 700-room hotel south of the Spokane Convention Center, connected to the center by a skywalk, according to a news release.

Worthy, together with his wife Karen Worthy, restored and own the historic Davenport Hotel, built the nearby Davenport Hotel Tower and in recent years bought the Hotel Lusso.

“Preliminary plans call for approximately 700 guest rooms and suites and up to 70,000 square feet of meeting space including a 15,000 square foot outdoor terrace, several large ballrooms; and multiple meeting rooms,” according to a news release issued this morning. “Also part of the development will be more than 900 public parking spaces; restaurants; a spa and salon plus an indoor pool and fitness center.”

The Worthys plan to develop a brand affiliation with a national chain such as Marriott. “For a convention hotel, you need to use the marketing and booking assistance of someone that has a national reputation,” Walt Worthy said during a Wednesday press conference outside the INB Performing Arts Center.

He said the affiliation hasn’t been decided yet.

The Spokane Public Facilities District owns the land after buying it for $7 million from a group led by developer Glen Cloninger in 2009. The property has surface parking lots and one building along Spokane Falls Boulevard.

Worthy argued vociferously to build the convention center expansion on that property when the Spokane Public Facilities District embarked on an expansion to add 100,000 square feet of meeting space in the late 1990s. Worthy was named to the PFD board in 2004 but ended up resigning in March of that year over budgetary concerns and the decision to select the site to the east.

The new Group Health Exhibit Hall finally opened in July 2006.

“The District’s Vision 20/20 Master Plan for Expansion of the Spokane Convention Center calls for a major convention headquarters hotel as the next step in developing the full potential of the Convention Center as an economic engine that benefits the entire region,” PFD chief executive Kevin Twohig said in the release.

Cheryl Kilday, president and CEO of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the Worthys’ proposal would create such a “headquarters hotel” for the convention trade.

Kilday said surveys and interviews with meeting planners have indicated they see Spokane needing that larger facility, as many events booked in the past year have required sending visitors to five or more area hotels.

Downtown Spokane has 18 hotels with 2,800 rooms. Some recent conventions have brought in guests needing more than 2,300 rooms, which forces planners to scramble to find enough accommodations since a certain number of rooms are booked for other events or guests at any given time.

Over the past 12 months, Spokane’s downtown hotels have had a 61 percent occupancy rate, Kilday said, citing hotel industry reports. The national average is just slightly above that number, she said.

June this year was the highest-occupancy month with 75 percent of rooms booked.

“Our business is very group-based,” she said, meaning downtown hotel occupancy in Spokane is closely tied to conventions. So far in 2012, 19 groups have booked national conventions in downtown Spokane. That ties the previous high mark for national conventions reached in 2010. There have been 89 national, regional and local conventions booked downtown during that time, with an estimated economic impact of $164 million, according to the convention bureau.

“So our customers (the planners who book events in different cities) say they prefer seeing Spokane move toward and building a headquarter hotel,” she said.

“We knew we would need a headquarter hotel in the future, but I’m surprised it’s happening sooner than later.

“And it’s the view of meeting planners that it will certainly help book more events here,” Kilday said.

This story is developing and will be updated. A copy of the letter of intent between the PFD and the Worthys has been added to this page. Click on documents to view the letter, signed Tuesday.