Two Dallas-based operations – Homegate Hotels and Ameri-First Financial Group Inc. – will jointly acquire 100 hotels of varying brands in 17 states by year’s end in a dual-pronged strategy that pumps hard assets into the financial service and cements the hotel operator’s presence nationwide.

About three hotels, with an average of 250 rooms each, are being bought each week, James Chatham, Ameri-First vice president, told The aggressive acquisition strategy got under way in March, with Homegate securing a five-year renewable management contract for the properties.

In concert with the acquisitions, both companies are beefing up internally to keep pace with the development program, which will put at least 15,000 rooms at a purchase cost of $35,000 to $45,000 per room into the portfolio, says Charles Wilkerson, vice president of acquisitions for Homegate, which is operated by his sons and son-in-law. In three weeks, the privately held Homegate will assume corporation status and be publicly traded while Ameri-First has sealed a letter of intent with Hampton Securities to open brokerage offices in Los Angeles, West Palm Beach and New York City, according to the executives. Ameri-First also is buying Gap Insurance Co., a vehicle leasing business, Chatham says, predicting the business strategies now in play will double per share value for Ameri-First stock within 30 days. It presently is trading at $1.50 per share, down from its $2.57 per share book value due to last February’s merger with Tahoe Pacific. Ameri-First expects to realize $120 million to $150 million in equity and a net operating cash flow of $28 million to $30 million by the Homegate teaming, which adds a real estate subsidiary and hard assets to Ameri-First’s bread and butter of cash-flow financing, emphasizes Chatham.

It’s the hotel development that is keeping the executives scurrying to keep pace with closings and renovations that are planned or under way for every acquired property. Wilkerson told that $200,000 to $2 million each is being pumped into the five-to-10-year-old properties being acquired from competitors such as Holiday Inn, Hampton Inn, Days Inn and Sheraton. The most recent purchase is the newly renovated Comfort Inn in Garland, TX. “We don’t really care what the franchisee is at this time because the franchise is going to go away and they’ll all be Homegates,” says Wilkerson.

At least 30 of the 100 targeted hotels are located in Texas. To date, Homegate has secured 14 hotels and another 39 are under contract. Wilkerson won’t tip his hand about the upcoming acquisitions, but did reveal the higher-end properties are located in San Antonio, Orlando, Miami, Dallas and Houston. “We have some really nice properties coming up,” says Wilkerson, whose company bought the Homegate chain in January from Prime Hospitality. He says the 49-hotel portfolio underwent a disposition phase to set the stage for this year’s acquisition strategy.

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