Downtown El Paso becomes new hotel hot spot

The sound of construction crews spills into the streets of downtown El Paso.

Inside the iconic Bassett Tower, workers are transforming the art-deco masterpiece into a state-of-the-art hotel.

"It's great," said Joe Champ, of Champ Hospitality. "This is going to be a focal point of downtown as it redevelops."

Across the street, another hotel is under construction. The former Rogers Furniture Building on the 200 block of North Stanton Street is being transformed into a 43-room boutique hotel.

On the north end of downtown, across the street from the Southwest University Park, a brand new Courtyard Marriott is being built.

Down the street, the former Camino Real Hotel is about to undergo a $70-million facelift. The Myers Group out of Florida purchased the historic hotel last summer and plans to restore the 356-room property to its former glory.

Meanwhile, across the street, the empty Plaza Hotel looms large over the historic core. Last year, El Paso businessman Paul Foster announced plans to bring this building back to life. Plans are in the works to rebuild the hotel and possibly build condos on the top floors.

Then there's the Indigo Hotel., El Paso's first boutique hotel, celebrating its first year in business.

So the question is, why now? What's driving investors to spend tens of millions of dollars on hotels that are concentrated in one part of the city?

"The market showed that El Paso had been ready for this since a while ago," said Miguel Diaz, the manager of the Hotel Indigo, which used to be a Holiday Inn before it was retrofitted and re-imagined into a hip, urban destination.

"Seventy-five percent of our guests are business people with all sorts of industries, the government, the military, medical industry, maquilas in Juarez, the automotive industry," said Diaz.

Jim Scherr is building the Courtyard Marriott across the street from the baseball stadium.

"We'll have some beautiful facilities to attract visitors to our city," said Scherr.

The $18-million project will feature more than 150 rooms. And, and it's only a block away from Scherr's other hotel, the Doubletree.

Nine years ago, Scherr took a dilapidated old hotel and turned it into the Doubletree - a hotel that he says ushered in a new chapter for downtown El Paso.

"Once we started off, we started bringing in 150 people approximately a night, and it started becoming much more active," said Scherr.

Back at Bassett Tower, developers are retrofitting this former office building into an 89-room Aloft branded hotel.

"I think the new supply that's coming into downtown reflects what is happening downtown," said Champ, a hotel consultant who is helping oversee Bassett Tower's transformation.

"The trolley, the residential, the restaurants, the ballpark, the proposed arena, the convention center hotel, people have a reason to come downtown, and travelers like a place where there's activity," said Champ.

The 87-year-old building was designed by famed local architect Henry Trost.

One of the more remarkable features of this hotel will be the penthouse suite. Guests will be able to walk out of the elevator and into their room, which will feature a stunning view of downtown and Ciudad Juarez.

"We actually have two suites up there where you get off the elevator, and the entire floor is yours," said Champ.

The project is expected to cost $8 to $10 million, and Champ said it should be open for business by the end of the year.

"People can now come downtown and park their cars and stay here, it's a very walk-able experience," said Champ. "It's a very safe experience, and there's interesting things to see and do, and that's what's attracting hotels to downtown."

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