HOUSTON-Less than one week after breaking ground on a new Downtown tower as part of its Houston Center complex, Crescent Real Estate Equities has sold the adjacent Four Seasons Hotel, one of the city’s premier luxury hotels.

Maritz, Wolff & Co., a St. Louis-based hotel investment concern, has paid $105 million for the 400-room hotel and the Four Seasons Place apartment tower, which has 114 residences. Maritz officials say they will continue to operate the property as a Four Seasons hotel and apartment tower although it is possible the apartments could be converted into condominiums at a later date.

The hotel and apartments are on the eastern portion of Downtown, which had been a patchy, urban frontier for the city center when the hotel was built in 1982. Now the area is fast becoming a Houston hot spot. The city’s new baseball stadium, Enron Field, is a few blocks away. The new NBA basketball arena, which was approved by local voters Tuesday, will be nearby. The George R. Brown Convention Center also is within easy walking distance.

Downtown’s office buildings are brimming with tenants, bringing more business travelers to the submarket. As a result, occupancy rates at Downtown hotels are much stronger than in the past. According to PKF Consulting, Downtown hotel occupancy had stood at 63% five years ago in comparison to 72.2% for the first nine months of this year.

The average room rate is $150, compared to $94.96 five years ago. The top weekend room rate at the Four Seasons is about $270 for a single room, with rates for a suite rising to about $340.

Crescent officials call the sale a first step in a previously announced business-class hotel disposition strategy. The remaining business-class hotels in Crescent’s portfolio will be sold in the next few years, with timing set to obtain optimal pricing, company officials say.

Last week, Crescent began construction on a 27-story office tower that will be called 5 Houston Center. It will be two blocks from the Four Seasons, boasting 577,000 sf of net rentable space that will deliver in fall 2002. Crescent says it already has commitments for 50% of the building’s space. Crescent intends to bring in a joint-venture equity partner for the building and ultimately hold a 25% to 30% equity stake while leasing and managing the property.

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