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by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | September 17, 2015

Rendering of the Fairmont AustinAustin, Texas; Charlotte, N.C.; and Kansas City, Mo., are just some of the second-tier cities packing substantial hotel-development pipelines in an effort to attract more meetings business. In the past, planners might have avoided these cities because of their lack of hotel inventory. The rush of new properties comes at a time when the hotel industry is enjoying extraordinarily high demand. In July of this year, Hendersonville, Tenn.-based STR said average occupancy nationwide was 73.5 percent, the highest level ever recorded for that month.

The number of hotel rooms in downtown Austin has grown to 8,000, with a citywide inventory of 33,000 rooms. By 2017, those numbers will grow to 11,000 rooms downtown and 36,000 citywide, according to the Austin Convention and Visitors Bureau. The lion's share of that new supply belongs to the $350 million, 37-story, 1,068-room Fairmont Austin, which will feature 106,000 square feet of meeting space when it opens for business in 2017. "Our advanced bookings for spring 2017 and beyond are better than our initial expectations," said Doug Manchester, president of Manchester Texas Financial Group, the hotel's developer.

Another 11 properties are in the Austin construction pipeline and on track to open by 2018. Among them are the 319-room Hotel Van Zandt, the 243-room Austin Proper and the 189-room Hyatt House. The new inventory comes on the heels of the 366-room Westin Austin Downtown, which opened this past July.

In Charlotte, pent-up demand is driving development. There currently are 1,900 hotel rooms in the pipeline, with much of that planned growth in 150- to 400-room projects. A 250-room Embassy Suites is now under construction across from the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In addition, in October 2014, Hilton Worldwide announced it had chosen Charlotte as one of the first 10 cities to put down roots for its new brand, Canopy by Hilton. That project will feature 175 to 200 rooms. Yet, Tom Murray, chief executive officer of the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, said the city still needs a 1,000-room headquarters hotel to attract bigger groups. "The time is right," said Murray, noting that the city is planning on bidding to host several high-profile sports and political events, including the 2020 Republican National Convention.

This summer, Kansas City's city council approved using public money to pay for half or more of a new $308 million, 800-room Hyatt convention center hotel, which is slated to break ground in 2018. That project already has won the city several new events, including the Shriners International 2020 convention. K.C. has another eight projects in its development pipeline, including a $100 million renovation of the former headquarters of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which will become a 302-room Embassy Suites. The city also will get its first Indigo Hotel when the historic former Brookfield Tower undergoes a $33 million transformation into a 113-room hotel, which is expected to open by the summer of 2017.