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Downtown Charleston hotel redevelopment ongoing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As the city of Charleston moves forward with revising and adopting its new downtown redevelopment plan, work on two downtown hotels continues to progress.

Both hotels - a future Courtyard by Marriott and a Four Points by Sheraton - are part of the plan's proposed "Civic District," which centers on the Charleston Civic Center.

At the construction site for the Courtyard by Marriott on a site bordered by Kanawha Boulevard and the Elk River, site preparation and much of the foundation work is complete, said Charlie Wendell, a developer with Fayetteville-based Virginia Inn Management, Inc.

"All of that just takes a lot of time," he said.

Wendell said the five-story hotel will begin to rise vertically in about a month and has a scheduled opening date of July 1, 2014.

The hotel will occupy the site where the Elk River Town Center Inn and a Long John Silver's restaurant once stood.

It will feature all the latest amenities of new Courtyard by Marriott hotels, including a bistro that will serve breakfast, dinner and drinks; a fitness room and pool; free wireless Internet; booths in the lobby with individual televisions and a "GoBoard" touchscreen with local and travel information; and of course, an outdoor courtyard complete with furniture and a fire pit, which Wendell described as "exquisite."

"It's the latest generation of Courtyards," he said.

For the Charleston location, the courtyard will face the Elk River, and Virginia Inn Management plans to clear brush and landscape the property all the way to the river itself.

The city has long-term plans to build a walkway along the river that connects to Kanawha Boulevard. That project would border the hotel property.

Meanwhile, up the boulevard, Charleston residents and downtown office workers have been watching the Ramada Inn (formerly the Charleston House) transform from one end to the other.

When renovations are completed in October, the entire hotel will shut down for a few days and then reopen as a Four Points by Sheraton.

"It's going really well," said Carrie Hillenbrandt, director of sales and marketing for Albany, N.Y., based BBL Hospitality, which owns the hotel. "We have some new rooms that are online at this point."

Hillenbrandt said renovation of the public areas of the hotel and of the guest rooms are scheduled so that everything will be finished at the same time. The hotel's closure in October will allow finishing touches to be made, including quality checks and ensuring that reservation systems are properly brought online.

Currently, the hotel's pool is closed for renovations, as are the ballroom and meeting rooms. The Recovery Sports Grill, a BBL Hospitality brand, opened on the hotel's first floor last October and Hillenbrandt said business is "going wonderfully."

"It's been phenomenal," she said of business at the restaurant. "We've got great feedback."

Rebranding a hotel isn't simple. Hillenbrandt said BBL Hospitality has been in contact with Starwood Hotels for over a year and is working closely with the hotel chain to ensure a smooth transition. Starwood owns the Four Points brand, along with other brands like Sheraton, Aloft and Westin.

To become a Four Points by Sheraton hotel, every aspect of the building - the furnishings, the decor, the lobby, the pool - must meet the brand's standard, and the brand also has heavy influence on how the hotel is laid out. The brand also can require certain services or amenities to maintain a similar experience at every hotel.

For Four Points by Sheraton, this includes conveniences like free in-room bottled water and free Internet access throughout the hotel and guest rooms. The brand also has a unique "Best Brews" program, which features two local craft beers per night included in the room price at select properties.

It is not yet known if the Charleston hotel will feature the Best Brews program, although Recovery Sports Grill does carry beer on tap from West Virginia breweries. Two beers from Mountain State Brewing in Thomas and Bridge Brew Works in Fayetteville are currently available.

The Charleston property is currently listed on the Four Points by Sheraton website as a future hotel. The hotel will be Starwood's first in the state.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at Matt.Murphy@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817.

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