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Clarion official: 'Business as usual'

December 04, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

One of the owners of the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center Antietam Creek on Dual Highway said Wednesday he expects the Clarion to emerge quickly from the bankruptcy protection for which it filed last week.

"When the day is done, it means a fresh start for the Clarion," Bill F. Burruss Jr. said.

Burruss is president of Annapolis-based Magna Hospitality Group, which manages the Clarion, and a minority partner in Hagerstown Hotel Associates LLC, which owns the Clarion.

"The hotel continues to function. There are no layoffs. It's just business as usual," Burruss said Wednesday in a telephone interview. The Clarion, which employs about 100 people, is not cutting services, he said.

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"The hotel, unfortunately like so many hotels across the country, has recently fallen victim to the hotel recession of the last three years," Burruss said.

"After 9/11, the hotel business really took a huge nosedive. We've been suffering under that since it happened. (The bankruptcy filing) gives us a fresh start," Burruss said.

Clarion officials are noticing a turnaround with an increased number of bookings for the coming year, Burruss said.

Burruss said the 901 Dual Highway hotel's occupancy rate decreased from approximately 70 percent before the terrorist attacks to 55 percent afterward. The hotel has 210 rooms and 30,000 square feet of meeting space.

Reservations were canceled after the attacks as leisure and business travel declined, he said. During the last two years, there have been fewer conventions, which are a main part of the Clarion's business, Burruss said.

Amy Phillips, vice president of PKF Consulting in Alexandria, Va., said few hotels faced foreclosure or filed for bankruptcy after 9/11. PKF Consulting is a management consulting firm that specializes in the hotel industry.

"This market especially, the Washington-Baltimore market, is pretty insulated from what the rest of the country is doing because it's the seat of government and government never goes out of business," Phillips said.

Hotels in the Washington-Baltimore area exceeded expected growth during the recession, Phillips said.

However, Robert Mandelbaum, PKF's director of research in the Atlanta office, said hotels nationwide that specialize in business and convention business were particularly hard hit after the terrorist attacks.

Burruss said other local hotels might not have been hit as hard as the Clarion because most of them are smaller and don't have convention space.

Burruss said the Clarion's nightclub, Barracuda's Lounge, didn't have a drop-off in business after Eclipse opened at Long Meadow Bowl last winter.

In a lawsuit filed in Washington County Circuit Court by Hagerstown Hotel Associates in February, the group sought $500,000 in monetary damages from Turner Development Company Inc., Frank R. Turner and Eclipse.

The lawsuit contended that Turner, the previous owner of the Dual Highway hotel, conference center and Barracuda's, violated a non-competition agreement by opening Eclipse.

In a court filing, Turner's attorney, Scott Schubel, argued that Eclipse did not offer any products or services that were not previously offered at Long Meadow Bowl and that the size of the building housing the facility had not been increased.

Burruss said the lawsuit was settled out of court, but would not say for how much.

Turner could not be reached for comment.

Burruss said he did not know the hotel's total debt.

Burruss said the Chapter 11 filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore gives the Clarion a chance to get out of debt, but its creditors will get something, he said.

Hagerstown Hotel Associates is behind on its Hagerstown and Washington County taxes and its water and sewer bills with the city, officials said.

The company owes $49,572 in real estate tax, $38,940 in lodging tax and $24,926 in personal property tax, Washington County Treasurer Todd Hershey said.

Hagerstown Hotel Associates owes the City of Hagerstown $36,292 in real estate tax and $7,875 for utilities, according to Treasurer Stephen Wolfensberger and Billing Supervisor Nelia Tidler.

Both the city and county tax amounts include interest for being delinquent.

Ron Vitkun, chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he was glad to hear the hotel expected to turn its financial picture around quickly.

"I know how hard it is today to make ends meet. When I heard about the Clarion, that didn't make me feel very good, being in the tourism business," Vitkun said.

Vitkun is co-owner of Yogi Bear's Jellystone Resort near Williamsport.

Vitkun said overall, lodging tax revenue in the county has increased, which tells him that hotel room bookings are up. The county lodging tax is 6 percent of the room rate, he said.

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