An 11-story Marriott hotel is scheduled to break ground in downtown Tempe later this year, in what is a rare example of a pre-recession project coming back to life.
The hotel is a sign the city's economy has improved enough to build the 173-room hotel, said Manjula Vaz, a zoning attorney who represents the project's investors.
"You see a lot of people who are interested in building in Tempe again," Vaz said. "I think Tempe is poised to come out of this sooner. The urban centers seem to be doing better."
About a dozen hotel operators had scouted downtown locations during the boom and many of those were approved. City planners knew most of the plans would go away after the first two or three were built and filled the demand for more rooms, but no hotel was built before the economy stalled.
Hotel occupancy rates plunged so much that it was assumed the demand wouldn't justify a new hotel for another three years, said Nancy Hormann, executive director of the Downtown Tempe Community.
The DTC was so confident of a long delay that it organized a community garden on the hotel site, at the southwest corner of Fifth and Forest avenues. It even commissioned a mural on the side of an adjacent parking garage that was built just ahead of the hotel's original timetable. The building will now cover the unfinished side of the structure - and the mural.
Hormann said the DTC is happy to move the garden because of the progress it represents.
"It really shows how much we've gotten on the path of recovery to have a hotel starting right now," Hormann said.
Florida-based Finvarb Group has planned the hotel since at least 2006 and had planned to break ground in late 2008. Work should begin late summer or early fall, with an opening by late 2012, Vaz said.
The site was once the home of the Bandersnatch Pub, a microbrewery that closed in 2003.
The Marriott will carry the Residence Inn brand, which caters to a wide variety of travel including leisure and business.
The hotel will likely attract a big contingent of leisure visitors, which is the largest segment of the market in the city, said Stephanie Nowack, president of the Tempe Convention and Visitors Bureau. The hotel's timing could take advantage of rising occupancy rates. Tempe's hotel occupancy rose from 67 percent last year to 72 percent so far this year, Nowack said. That's the second-highest occupancy rate in the Valley, behind Scottsdale.
"I think it does say something about Tempe," she said. "This group has expressed an interest in being here before and I think it's encouraging they maintained their interest."