It has been a very busy seven months for the privately held, Dallas-based Omni Hotels & Resorts. The chain is more known for its new-build convention center hotels in major urban markets such as Dallas/Fort Worth and Nashville (where the 800-room Omni Nashville will debut next month, across from the new Music City Center), than for splashy resort development deals in far-flung locations.
Still, this past June, Omni raised more than a few eyebrows in the hospitality industry when it snapped up five iconic hotels from KSL Capital Partners, including The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., which in July 2012 completed a $25 million renovation that included a new spa, an outdoor family park and several restaurants. In the KSL deal, Omni gained a total of 2,362 rooms, 304,000 square feet of meeting space and several acclaimed designer golf courses, not to mention significant clout in the resort market.
Even more recently, the company made two more major announcements: On Aug. 1, Omni assumed management of Toronto's 110-year old grande dame, the 301-room King Edward Hotel, which features 30,000 square feet of meeting space; and the chain revealed it will develop a 330-room hotel in Tempe, Ariz., as part of that city's $350 million USA Place mixed-use development complex, which will be the new home of USA Basketball and include a 4,500-seat arena, 500 luxury apartments, and significant office and retail space. That hotel, scheduled to open in late 2015, already is generating buzz on social media sites such as LinkedIn.
Last week, after weeks of phone tag, I finally caught up with a very busy Peter Strebel, Omni's senior vice president of operations, who spoke candidly about the company's sudden growth spurt, how it accesses development deals and what it currently has on its expansion radar.
Q. The KSL, five-hotel deal seemed an unusual one for Omni. Are you deliberately looking to grow your resort portfolio, and this was a quick way to add product?
A. When those five resorts were put on the market by KSL, we knew immediately it was where we needed to be. And, because we are privately held, we can be fast and nimble. We are all about unique experiences, and each of them are destination resorts that speak to their location. They are authentic, with local color, and are so established that they could never be replaced.
Q. Omni already has established itself in the convention hotel market. What can meeting planners expect the Omni Nashville to deliver when it opens next month?
A. We spent weeks at a time in Nashville with our design team. Our hotel will capitalize on two things: sophisticated Southern style and music. Everything in the hotel will speak to those two concepts. The floor of the lobby looks like the fret of a guitar. The chandeliers in the main ballroom are designed to look like musical notes. Our restaurant, which is called Kitchen Notes, will even feature a biscuit bar, with the biscuits made right in front of you. Our restaurant's menu will feature authentic local cuisine. We went out into the local community and talked to junior leagues and church groups and got ahold of their recipe books, and we put our menu offering together based on their recipes.
Q. What about the Tempe development deal -- what will that hotel's design be based on?
A. That deal is very new. It is not scheduled to open until 2015, but it will obviously tie into the whole sports theme, which is what USA Place is about. It's precisely because we are not a scripted hotel company that we can deliver a lot of local color, which is what travelers want when they visit a destination. Even if they never get a chance to experience the immediate community, they want to know they can taste regional food or hear a local band.
Q. What made the King Edward Hotel in Toronto a good fit for Omni?
A. Two things: Toronto is a large feeder market for cities like Boston, Montreal, New York City and Chicago. And, when we walked in to that hotel, we felt its presence right away. It is an iconic, local hotel that defines that city. It is going to have a major renovation, but not to change its style or design. We want people to walk in and say, "Wow. We stayed at The King Edward," because it is a name that is symbolic of Toronto.
Q. In what other feeder markets would you like to see Omni have product?
A. Right now we are just under 60 hotels, and we think that's a good place to be. I'd rather be at 60 very distinct, unique properties, than selling 3,000 properties across a half-dozen brands. As we keep growing, we keep getting more development phone calls. In North America, we have our eye on Seattle, Miami, and Calgary and Vancouver in Canada. We'd also like more of a presence in the Mexico market.