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ORLANDO-What’s in a name? Plenty, says Gaylord Entertainment, a Nashville, TN-based hospitality, attractions, music and media conglomerate.

Striving for an image that will dominate the market over the next five years, Gaylord is re-branding its nearly-completed 1,400-room hotel under construction a mile from the front door of Walt Disney World. Instead of the Opryland Hotel, the inn will be called Gaylord Palms when it opens in February.

The estimated cost of the 1,400-room hotel, an adjoining 360-room boutique-styled hotel and a 400,000-sf adjacent convention center is $404 million, construction industry estimators familiar with comparable ventures elsewhere tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

Gaylord officials couldn’t be reached for comment but issued a prepared statement.

The Tennessee hospitality firm also is renaming its Nashville hotel, Gaylord Opryland, and its Grapevine TX property, Gaylord Opryland Texas. It’s all a mater of future perception by the buying public, the company states.

The re-branding is based on research among meeting planners, associations, travel agents and guests who stay at meeting and convention hotels.

“The research showed the Gaylord name connotes an upscale and high-quality image that accurately reflects the brand,” Gaylord CEO Colin V. Reed says in the statement. “The Opryland name enjoys strong regional name recognition in Nashville and Texas, but suggests an image that is not consistent with the product that Gaylord will open in Florida in 2002, or in other locations around the country.”

Gaylord Entertainment is betting the convention and hospitality business will be “a core and strategic area of sustainable growth for the company,” Reed says.

The company operates in two groups–hospitality and attractions; and music, media and entertainment. Among the businesses are Opryland Hotels, the Grand Ole Opry, Acuff-Rose Music Publishing, Word Entertainment and WSM Radio.

“We have taken a hard look at our business, our customers, our competition and our prospects and are convinced that we are in the unique position to be the market leader in this space,” Reed says in the statement.

The company’s Kissimmee hotel will have 400,000 sf of meeting and convention space when it opens in February, Reed says. That is up from 178,000 sf previously projected by Gaylord.

“Outside of Las Vegas and our Nashville property, it is unique to find this combination of high quality hotel rooms and meeting space all under one roof,” Reed says. The property also has numerous restaurants, a class A spa, access to several nearby championship golf courses and is a few minutes from Disney’s four theme parks.

The 1,400-room hotel and the adjoining 360-room inn are being completed at an estimated hard construction cost of $200,000 per room. The nearby convention center is going up at an estimated $130 per sf.

“At those numbers, the hotel is going to have to aim for high occupancy almost every day of the week just to make its nut,” Robin L. Webb, a hotel consultant and former lodging operator for 30 years tells GlobeSt.com. Webb is vice president/managing broker of Arvida Realty Services Commercial Division, Winter Park, FL.

Three weeks ago, a New York consortium headed by Deutsche Bank Alex.Brown Inc., Salomon Smioth Barney and CIBC Markets agreed to loan Gaylord up to $210 million to complete its Kissimmee project.

Gaylord’s decision to go with a new hotel brand comes as its neighbor, Walt Disney World, decides to postpone for the third time the opening of its largest hotel to date, the 5,760-room Pop Century Resort. The new opening date will depend on the economy and tourist demand, Disney officials say.

Disney’s decision also comes as Smith Travel Research Inc. of Hendersonville, TN is reporting preliminary September occupancy in Central Florida at 44.6%, down from an average 62.1% in August. A year ago, occupancies were averaging 85% as the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday periods approached.

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