In New Jersey, as the saying goes, you’re known by your exit…as in, the closest exit of the NJ Turnpike or the Garden State Parkway. If several deals fall into place as expected, the Turnpike’s Exit 13A could become known as the hotel exit.

Exit 13A is one of two that directly link to Newark International Airport, the busiest of the tri-state region’s three major airports and the 10th busiest in the country. Throw in the massive new 200-store Jersey Gardens Mall, the IKEA-anchored Elizabeth Center and a variety of other commercial projects and the demand for hotel rooms has exploded.

Several major hotel operators have heard the call. If all eight active projects come to fruition, 13A will have almost 4,000 rooms, the largest concentration anywhere in the Garden State outside of Atlantic City.

Among the latest proposals is one by IKEA Urban General Partners, an IKEA subsidiary headed by James Gdula, for a package of three hotels totaling 600 rooms on 10 acres next to the Elizabeth Center/IKEA retail site. Gdula says he’s negotiating with several national hotel chains he declines to name.

Besides those, Marriott, which already runs a full-service hotel within Newark International Airport, is advancing with its plans to put up both a 200-room Courtyard by Marriott and a 200-room Residence Inn next to Jersey Gardens. The two all-suite properties should be open for business by December 2001, according to Marriott officials.

And Callahan & Co., a company that builds hotels nationally for a number of chains, including Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites, is moving ahead with plans to build as 650-room hotel and conference center (most likely with the Crowne Plaza nameplate) and a 315-key extended-stay property (probably Staybridge) next to the mall. While the scope of the properties appears set, the brand names are still being negotiated, according to company chairman Michael Callahan.

Other proposals in the works include a 260-room Holiday Inn Select a little to the south in Elizabeth; a 220-room expansion of the Newark Airport Hilton directly across from the airport itself; and the expected re-opening of the shuttered, 400-room Jetport Holiday Inn as a Wyndham Hotel.

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