Fastest Growing U.S. Hotel Brand Rises in Alabama

📅   Thu June 15, 2017 - Southeast Edition #13
Cindy Riley


Construction crews in Auburn, Ala., have begun work on what’s being described as the fastest growing new-build hotel brand in United States history.
Construction crews in Auburn, Ala., have begun work on what’s being described as the fastest growing new-build hotel brand in United States history.

Construction crews in Auburn, Ala., have begun work on what's being described as the fastest growing new-build hotel brand in United States history. When complete, the new four-story Tru by Hilton will feature 98 rooms, a swimming pool, exercise room and game zone with pool table and lounge area.

“We designed Tru by Hilton with a variety of markets in mind, including urban areas,” said Alexandra Jaritz, global head of Tru by Hilton. “We saw the demand for a mid-scale hotel in Auburn, as both business and leisure travelers are attracted to its proximity to the university. Designed for success in a variety of markets, the prototype is designed to be easily scalable and adaptable for different location types.

“Universities always draw crowds, whether for football games, alumni events, networking conferences, graduations, etc. Tru by Hilton Auburn will be a great home base for those traveling to the city and are looking for a hotel that emphasizes simplicity and value, without compromising quality or design. We're so excited to see it come to life.”

Jaritz said the brand was developed to appeal cross-generationally and attract a broad spectrum of travelers who share a common 'zest for life' mindset, whether they are millennials, GenXers or Boomers.

“These travelers want more than just a place to rest their heads — they want to be able to connect with other travelers and enjoy easy-going engagement in a space where they are free to be themselves and that allows them to customize their hospitality experience.

“To provide this, we disrupted everything about the mid-scale segment, from the design of our work places to how guests enjoy breakfast to the amenities found in guest rooms. Our lobby is a prime example of how we provide guests the freedom to tailor their experience to their lifestyle. The 2,800 square-foot, open-space design is focused on driving more energy and activity into the area, but is also sensitive to giving guests a quiet place to work, read or just be among others.”

A groundbreaking for the new property took place last September, although actual construction didn't begin until April 2017. Matthew Curry, project manager for Dothan-Alabama-based Hollis & Spann Inc., said the total duration of work is approximately one year. Crews are currently working on a variety of tasks, including the export and import of suitable soils for the building pad foundation and parking lot base.

“Interior, perimeter and exterior footings have been dug, rebar has been installed, footings poured and foundation CMU block laid and grouted,” said Curry.

With the building pad and foundation installed, plumbing, mechanical, fire sprinkler main and electrical conduit can now be completed. Fire and domestic water utilities, sanitary sewer utilities and storm sewer are currently being installed as the site work begins.

“Once the slab-on-grade is poured, the next critical task is getting the building dried-in,” said Curry. “This includes erecting all steel, installing all wood framing and exterior sheathing and laying CMU block, along with setting trusses for the roofer to start. Once the building is topped out and the roofing, windows and waterproofing membrane is installed, then the building is considered dried-in, and ready for the interior rough-in and finishes, along with exterior finishes, to begin.”

Excavators, skid steers, forklifts, cranes and bull dozers are being used to construct the new hotel, along with backhoes, vibratory rollers, dump trucks and wheel loaders. Concrete, wood, CMU block, drywall and EIFS are among the materials being utilized.

Approximately 10,000 cu. yds. of dirt will be moved during construction. This includes import, export, stripping and stockpiling topsoil, fine grading site, back-filling curb and gutter and re-spreading topsoil prior to landscaping.

No demolition was required, as the project site is located in a recently developed area.

“The building pad required over excavation, due to unsuitable soils encountered during proof-rolling of slab,” said Curry. “An area of 66 feet long by 71 feet wide by three feet deep was excavated, hauled off site and new select fill dirt was imported back to site.”

Normal erosion control measures were designed for the project, along with perimeter silt fence, temporary sediment basin and construction concrete wash out pit. The site is open and flat, so no extravagant erosion control had to be implemented.

The most time-consuming task involves coordination among subcontractors to stay on schedule and under budget , while maintaining the quality the construction industry requires. Weather also is a concern.

“Spring rain showers have created constant delays in construction, along with the having to rework areas that are affected by each day's rain events.

“As for the biggest challenges on the job, said Curry, “It would be constructing a hotel next door to an existing hotel in a busy college town, without disturbing the guests staying in the neighboring hotel. Also, this is a new hotel within the Hilton Brand portfolio, so the protoype is constantly changing as more Tru hotels are being constructed daily. Trying to constantly perfect this hotel as more open is also challenging.”

Blair Hildahl, LEED AP, principal with Base4 architectural firm, agreed that working with such a new brand can be tricky.

“While Hilton has been a longstanding player in the hotel franchise world, Tru by Hilton was released just over a year ago. This Auburn project will be one of the first ever built. This is, of course, is very exciting for us and the owners group, but can also lead to some challenges that we wouldn't see in a typical Hilton design.

“Anytime you're working with a brand new flag, there are always 'bugs' that need to be worked out in the original design concept. While Hilton does a very good job of vetting the new designs, there are still always going to be small glitches in the original concept that are discovered via the design process that need to be altered. Another challenge has also been providing accurate construction pricing numbers. There are really no projects to use for reference pricing, so developers are going in a bit blind in this regard.

“Right now, there is a lot of demand across the country for campus and university hotels. Many of our clients have been targeting college town sites for new developments for this reason. When evaluating hotel sites in these types of locations, a developer must consider several main factors including location of site to campus, target demographic, size of athletic program, competitors in the marketplace, etc. Many of these items are summarized in an in-depth feasibility study and often times a select-service hotel, like Tru by Hilton, are often the best fit.

“While older, longstanding hotels on campuses are often independent of a brand, this isn't the case with newer campus developments. Typically, developers and universities alike are seeking brand affiliation to ensure brand standards and to become a part of their coveted reservations and loyalty programs.

Hildahl noted that while the brand's vibrant colors, modern décor and smaller guestrooms may seem better fitted to the millennial mindset, Hilton's intent is to attract travelers who span all generations, but share a similar mindset.

“The design intent for the Tru by Hilton brand is founded in three key values – fun, fresh and functional. Ultimately, this is a hotel brand that's simplified and grounded in value, while still being bold and spirited in design,” Hildahl said.

“We are really excited about the first floor common space, which Hilton has dubbed 'The Hive'. Rather than just a lobby, this will be more of a 2,800 square foot experience. This area includes several open multi-function areas with moveable furniture and social areas.”

Hildahl said the hotel will include a number of sustainable design elements.

“The IECC (International Energy Conservation Code) has become stricter and stricter every year. This code has forced all hotel developers to include sustainable design measures in their new development projects.”

These will include LED lighting and high efficiency HVAC units, as well as a high-efficiency hot water system, which will offer savings on the utility costs.

He added, “Working with Rinkesh Patel and Mitesh Patel at RAM Hotels is always very rewarding. They're experienced developers who know the hotel industry very well. We are also very excited to be a big part of the new Tru by Hilton trend. We are eager to see all these new Tru projects come to the life in the next 12 months, as they begin construction.”

Tru by Hilton currently has more than 10 hotels under construction. The Auburn facility is expected to be completed by February 2018.

CEG