For several years during the early 1990s, Peter Dunn worked at a high-rise hotel right across the street from Perimeter Mall. He left to manage hotels in other cities and returned recently as general manager of a new hotel that also happens to be across the street from Perimeter Mall.
In fact, his new 275-room hotel, metro Atlanta’s first example of the Le Meridien hotel chain, is in the same building as his earlier hotel, The Marque.
Le Meridien’s owners are spending $20 million to dress up and modernize the place, Dunn said.
They’ve re-skinned the building, added space to rooms, installed big beds and big TVs, he said. They also redecorated using brushed steel and dark colors and with stylized images of metro Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as artwork.
And, Dunn discovered recently, more than the name and look of the building have changed. The first time he went looking for his hotel, he drove right past the entrance.
Perimeter Center had changed, too.
“I hadn’t been back to Dunwoody since I left in 1996, just before the Olympics,” Dunn said. “I drove here and when I got off on Perimeter Center Drive, I couldn’t recognize anything.”
As the Perimeter area adds restaurants, shops and office workers, its hotel business is changing, too.
The recent recession pinched business travel, the mainstay of Perimeter hotels, but local hoteliers and tourism promoters see signs indicating the area’s hotel business is returning.
“It’s starting to start back,” said Brad Sturgeon, general manager of the Embassy Suites Atlanta-Perimeter Center and former head of the board of directors of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Dunwoody.
Scott Smith, a senior vice president of PFK Hospital Research LLC, which studies the Atlanta hotel market, seems ready to agree.
“We think the [metro Atlanta] markets are going to do well for the next couple of years, including Central Perimeter,” he said.
The Central Perimeter submarket is home to 25 of metro Atlanta’s 782 hotels and provides 4,406 of its 93,092 hotel rooms, according to PFK Hospitality Research.
Thirteen of Perimeter’s hotels rank as “upper-priced” properties and 12 as “lower-priced” ones, PFK reports.
The Perimeter area, which stretches from Ashford Dunwoody Road to Roswell Road and I-285 to Abernathy Road, ranks fifth among the metro area’s 17 submarkets in the change over the last four quarters in “revpar,” the industry term for revenue per available room, a standard measure of hotel success.
Submarkets that PFK ranked higher were Midtown; the Town Center area of north Cobb, Cherokee and Bartow counties; Downtown Atlanta; and Buckhead.
Since 2009, the occupancy of Central Perimeter hotels has risen from 62 percent to 67 percent, PFK reported.
Sturgeon says he won’t be surprised if Perimeter Center someday tops Buckhead and other metro areas on the revpar lists.
As manager of the Embassy Suites in Buckhead and in Perimeter, he gets a first-hand view of both markets.
“These markets have become increasingly blended,” Sturgeon said. “It’s like of lot of things going on in the north metro area. It’s becoming the center of affluence and the center of influence.”
As customers return, hotel developers are showing a renewed interest in the Perimeter area, too.
After about a decade with no new full-service hotel built in the area, developers are talking to local cities about at least four new hotels — two in Sandy Springs and one each in Dunwoody and Brookhaven.
“We are big believers in Dunwoody and the Perimeter market. … We have proximity to Perimeter Mall, which gets 18½ million visitors, and we’re in the middle of the biggest [office] submarket in the South,” said Steve Smith of IRE Capital of Buckhead, part of a development company proposing to build a new Hampton Inn Suites as part of a development in Dunwoody.
Katie Bishop, executive director of Dunwoody’s convention and visitor’s bureau, sees the development of new hotels as an extension of the growth of the Perimeter retail and office markets.
“Perimeter and Dunwoody and Sandy Springs overall have seen tremendous growth in businesses locating here. … There’s a lot going on in the market, a lot of positive change,” Bishop said. “New hotels are a natural part of that growth.”
From Sandy Springs, which has more than three times as many hotels as Dunwoody, the view is different.
When Kym Hughes, executive director of Sandy Springs Hospitality and Tourism, arrived in the city in 2007, Sandy Springs boasted 21 hotels. Since then, two have closed and one was converted to student housing, she said.
“Our occupancy has been solid for a long time. Our hotels do a fabulous job of being competitive,” Hughes said. “Right now, we’re seeing a change. We lost two properties and we’ve gained [the prospect] of two properties.”
Hughes argues the hotel development market reflects a new availability of investment money as the recession ends.
“It’s really a matter of getting financing,” Hughes said. “Hotels cannot build without financing. That’s simple math. We’re just coming out of a period when there was not a lot of financing. There’s a better opportunity for financing now than there was in the last couple of years. I would say that’s why you see the change.”
At Le Meridien, Dunn sees other changes, as well. Back 18 years ago, he said, visiting corporate executives would stay in Buckhead hotels and travel to offices in the Perimeter for work.
“In those days,” he said, “there was Buckhead and there was the rest of the world.”
Now his job is to persuade those executives to stay in his high-end hotel across the street from Perimeter Mall. How?
“We just make sure we continue to take care of them,” Dunn said. “It’s Hotel 101. It’s not rocket science. It’s all about service.”