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Sheraton Hamilton latest target of hotel developers

March 06, 2008
Eric McGuinness
The Hamilton Spectator

The Sheraton Hamilton Hotel may soon be sold and refurbished -- the latest in a stunning series of plans to renovate or build hundreds of hotel rooms in the city.

An official of the steelworkers' union, which represents 130 employees of the downtown Sheraton, reports that Darko Vranich and his Burlington-based Vrancor Group have signed a letter of intent to buy the hotel.

A hospitality industry consultant says any buyer will have to invest millions to upgrade the 21-year-old property.

Downtown development director Ron Marini also revealed yesterday that the city has committed to giving Staybridge Suites owner John Bukovac tax incentives to build on the former Hamilton Motor Products used-car lot on the south side of Main Street West just west of Bay Street South.

That news comes as:

* The former Ramada Plaza is renovated to become a four-star Crowne Plaza this spring.

* Dethroned Toronto condo king Harry Stinson tries to convert the vacant Royal Connaught into a boutique hotel and apartments.

* A downtown car dealership is being turned into a Days Inn.

* Plans are floated to build five more hotels downtown in addition to one or two overlooking Highway 403 in west Hamilton and one near the 403-Linc interchange in Ancaster.

David Adames, executive director of Tourism Hamilton, sees it as part of a boom in hotel development that's swept across Ontario in recent years, noting that Hamilton has suffered from a shortage of quality hotel rooms for some time.

David Larone, a director of Toronto hospitality consulting firm PKF, attributes industry interest to the success of the city's two newest hotels, the Marriott Courtyard on Upper James Street and Staybridge Suites downtown.

He said Staybridge, developed by Vrancor, which has since sold its share, "has performed very well" and the Courtyard, developed by Oscar Kichi's Sahar Hospitality, "has done extremely well," so the interest in further investment downtown should be no surprise.

Larone also said, "Whoever would end up acquiring the Sheraton would certainly be looking to invest dollars and that's a good-news scenario."

Rumours of an impending Sheraton sale are rampant, and Jereme Lee, head of the Sheraton Hamilton unit of the United Steelworkers of America, Local 16506, said yesterday that employees were told early in January about Vrancor's letter of intent to buy the hotel.

He said the original closing date has passed, but he understands negotiations to conclude the deal are continuing.

Neither Vrancor nor Starwood Hotels, which owns the Sheraton, could be reached for comment yesterday.

Kichi, who aims to open the former Ramada Plaza as a Crowne Plaza in early May, with a new conference centre next door, said he made an unsuccessful bid for the Sheraton when it first was listed for sale, but turned down an invitation to try again late last year because he was making plans for one or two new hotels at the McMaster Innovation Park in west Hamilton.

Proposals for new downtown hotels:

* The owner of Staybridge Suites wants to build on the former Hamilton Motor Products used-car lot on the south side of Main Street West between Caroline and Bay.

* Vrancor plans a Hilton Homewood Suites on the northwest corner of Main and Bay streets.

* Two are included in the City of Hamilton's plan to redevelop the Education Centre site on the northeast corner of Main and Bay. The city won't identify the interested developers.

* A Holiday Inn Express at King and Queen streets is reportedly being considered by Vrancor.
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Now that Harry's plans for the Royal Connaught are dead, discussion regarding his new Hamilton Grand plans should take place here.