Corporate hotels are beginning to dominate Tulsa’s landscape as owners cater their product for executives, said Robert Patel.
Patel, president of Tulsa-based Leisure Hospitality Inc., said when he travels, he “grabs a pad, pencil and begins writing notes.”
“When I am attending a hotel convention, I won’t stay at the convention hotel, I would find a hotel brand that I am operating, to see first hand on how they are operating their property, because I have learned during my 25 years plus in the hospitality industry, seeing and learning hands-on is always superior over a textbook.”
Patel receives insight from the time he approaches the front desk.
“From the time you check in, to housekeeping — to all aspects of the operation — food and beverage, breakfast, there is lot of places to pick up pointers,” Patel said.
This year should be another record year in the industry.
Patel, too, looks forward to a profitable future. He owned 10 hotels ranging in age from 7 to 20 years and sold all but two. He’s building four new ones to freshen his portfolio. “We sold all the old hotels and are staring new. I am sitting with two hotels and four under construction,” he said. “After a hotel reaches seven to eight years old, you are ready to recondition the property. You have to update them, take care of the soft goods, do a fresh look.”
Last June, Patel sold the Holiday Inn Express Gilcrease and Owasso’s Holiday Inn Express to New York-based Emerald Hospitability for a combined $8 million.
Patel still owns two acres next to the property. He’s interested in downtown, but is “waiting on downtown to develop a little bit more before we build in that market,” he said. “I think goals right now are in the south Tulsa area.”
The current economic trend pushed him south, Patel said.
“The wave of current business clients are expecting hotels to be hospitable,” he said. “We are seeing more of a trend with business clientele that like Hilton, Marriott products – Holiday Inn Express. The properties are consistent, and they feel safer.”
Patel is spending $37.1 million to build four hotels in the Tulsa area this year.
The hotels will include a $15 million, 136-room Courtyard by Marriott, which will top out east of Woodland Hills Mall. Patel is developing two other hotels in Owasso and a fourth in Bartlesville.
In Owasso, Patel plans an $8.5 million, 103-room Hampton Inn & Suites at 9009 N. 121st East Ave., as well as a $6.85 million ExtendedStay TownePlace Suites by Marriott at 9400 N. Owasso Expressway.
“We’ve been in the Owasso market for 10 years. We know the market, and Owasso has just exploded,” Patel said.
The reason is the development of the Smith Farm Center at 96th Street and U.S. 169. The development at the TownePlace property “gives us exposure on both sides of the highway,” he said.
The explosion of shopping venues began with the Wal-Mart SuperCenter and Lowe’s in the Owasso Market. Target is also expected to build a shopping center. Other companies expected to build are Cracker Barrel, Steak-N-Shake and Logan’s Roadhouse.
“There is all this energy in that area,” Patel said.
“I love to be around restaurants,” Patel said. “I love development. Hotels and restaurants go hand in hand. If you have quality restaurants around a hotel, it does well.”
In Bartlesville Patel’s crew is developing a 90-room, $6.8 million Holiday Inn Express at 2350 S.E. Washington Blvd., near Washington Park Mall.
“Looking at the corporate base, Courtyard caters toward corporate clientele,” Patel said. “From Sunday through Thursday, there is a 90 percent corporate return on accounts.”
On weekends, soccer moms and guests playing in nearby baseball and softball tournaments fill the hotels, he said.
“We are looking at a second location in Bartlesville, and we’re talking to a real estate firm about another site,” he said. “Bartlesville is growing with ConocoPhillips bringing in lots of people,” and the Wal-Mart Distribution Center just south of Bartlesville only contributes to the incentives to head north of Tulsa.
An exception to Patel’s portfolio of corporate hotels is the Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Jenks, next to the Oklahoma Aquarium.
That hotel is “mostly for tourists,” he said. “We are seeing a trend that, once we get into the tourist season, this hotel does exceptionally well,” Patel said. “Once into the dead season, it is slack from September to January.”
The hotel, at 150 Aquarium Drive in Jenks, originally was a Best Western. Patel spent $400,000 to switch flags to Holiday Inn Express Jan 2. While Best Western serves more families, tourists and the retired, Holiday Inn Express is geared toward corporate business, Patel said.
“We wanted a more corporate base to get us through the flat months,” he said. “So, we made the move. It took a minimal amount to change. It already had the character of a Holiday Inn Express.”
Patel was able to change brands because Best Western requires only a 1-year contract. With an option to renew, Patel moved to Holiday Inn Express, which requires a 10-year contract. Marriott is twice that long, as it demands a 20-year contract.
“You have to be really careful with what franchise you put into what market, because you are going to be married to them awhile,” Patel said.
Progress of the developments around the Jenks Bridge continues. Jerry Gordon recently announced the expansion of Phase II in RiverWalk Crossing. Accordingly, the city of Jenks and the Aquarium Authority are working on an upscale seafood and steakhouse, Patel said. Also planned are a low-water dam and the building of a dock behind the hotel.
“That would create a lot of energy for the hotel,” Patel said.
Patel came to the U.S. from England and settled in Chicago. After a time, Patel and his father Peter decided to open a hotel in California. That deal fell through, however; but on the way to Chicago, the pair stopped in Tulsa.
Through a chance meeting with the owner, they invested and made $150,000 on a popular property in west Tulsa. Within nine months they turned the property around, selling it for three times the down payment.
They then bought a hotel in Cushing, right at the beginning of the 1980s oil boom.
“By 1 p.m., that hotel was packed,” Patel, said.
“We made it through the oil boom doing extremely well. It was the backbone of our progression. We had established ourselves at that point, so when the oil bust came, we were Ok.
“The hotel was paid off and we had enough cash flow to get through the bust,” he said.
Through the ‘80s and ‘90s Patel expanded to Chandler, Ponca City, Bartlesville and Parsons, Kan.
Patel, though passionate about the hospitality sector, opened a construction company and ran it for a decade.
The last property his company erected was the Jenks Holiday Inn Express. He has put it on the shelf for now, he said.
“With the way I want to expand my portfolio now, I need to spend more time developing a property and less time on construction.” ?