FORT WORTH-A first-time joint venture expects to close in the summer on the 434-Fort Worth Ramada Plaza Hotel in downtown Fort Worth after chasing the deal for more than a year. Talks began with a $15-million ask for an asset now being sized up for a $12-million makeover.

When the deal closes, the flag will be lowered and another first-tier hotel banner flown in its place, Paul Barham, CEO for the publicly traded Harrell Hospitality Group Inc., tells The hotel at 1701 Commerce St., across the street from the Fort Worth Convention Center, has been owned for nearly a decade by Puson GCH LP of Indonesia.Harrell Hospitality, with offices in Dallas and London, is teaming with Realty Capital Partners Inc. of Colleyville, known for buying or developing and hawking percentage interests to select investors. The JV agreement sets up Realty Capital as the buyer and Harrell as hotel renovator and manager.

In breaking the longstanding rule not to discuss deals before they close, Barham says the word is being put out about the private project to dovetail off last week’s news that a Fort Worth committee will recommend Omni Hotels of Irving gets the city-backed convention center hotel project. “We thought it would be timely for some other good news that we are taking the old Ramada Plaza and making it something better,” he says.

The 14-year-old Harrell Hospitality Group operates the 263-room Biltmore Santa Clara, an independent hotel in California, and the 149-room Rancho Santa Barbara Marriott. Barham’s not ready to discuss the pending flag change, but the Dallas proprietor has a longstanding relationship with Marriott International as one of a few independents cleared to manage its full-service franchised locations. Its other hotel relationships involve franchised operations with Sheraton, Hilton, Radisson, Clarion, Ramada, Holiday Inn and Marriott.

Barham says Harrell is making its first Texas play because “we really like Fort Worth. We believe the reports that say there is a need for more hotel rooms.”

Hotels are hot subjects in Fort Worth, an issue that’s divided the city as it decides whether to own a hospitality property or cut a development deal in the private sector to get additional rooms for the convention center, which underwent a $75-million renovation last year.

The $12-million hotel renovation, inside and out, will begin as soon as the purchase closes. Barham says the $99-per room facility will remain open during the work, penciled for a summer 2005 completion. “It will be a fair discount to replacement when we’re fully renovated,” he says, adding the investment will end up less than 50% of replacement cost. The Tarrant Appraisal District has levied a $4.3-million assessment on the holding.

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