Blues City Betterment

Construction of a new Westin hotel adjacent to the city's fledgling 19,000-seat sports arena and renovations at a venerable landmark hotel are signaling a bustling downtown Memphis.

Just breaking ground is the 203-room Westin Beale Street Hotel directly across from FedExForum, home of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis University Tigers basketball team.

The $40 million hotel, owned by Nashville-based Senate Hospitality Group, is to open by first-quarter 2007.

The hotel will have 7,000 square feet of meeting space, including two ballrooms of 3,000 and 2,000 square feet, respectively.

David Jones, Senate Hospitality's president and CEO, said the hotel is targeting boutique-size medical and insurance meetings. He believes the new Westin's location on Beale Street will help drive business, as will its proximity to the Memphis Cook Convention Center. The latter is a 15-minute walk or a quick trolley ride.

"Large convention groups tend to use more than one facility in the city, and some of the city-wide conventions have been using the Gibson Guitar Factory and FedExForum to support the convention center," Jones said.

The hotel will have an advanced fitness center, and guestrooms will have bathrooms with tubs and walk-in showers.

Meanwhile, the Peabody Memphis, located a few blocks away, completed a three-year, multimillion-dollar renovation this past November. The effort involved the renovation and redecoration of all 464 guestrooms and suites and the complete restoration of meeting rooms and public spaces, including the fitness club, lobby and corridors.

The Peabody Memphis is a popular venue for financial, pharmaceutical and high-tech groups. Douglas Browne, general manager, said recently the hotel has been getting a lot of business from Canada.

Browne noted that, while the hotel initiated the renovations to raise its service and standards to a higher-end niche, it was also simply time to renovate.

"With an 80-year-old hotel, you're always renovating something," he remarked. "We typically spend $3-4 million a year on renovations. We have gone after higher-end group business, and this renovation reflects that effort."