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PHILADELPHIA-Hersha Hospitality Trust has announced a public offering of seven million shares of common stock. It has not yet been priced, but shares of HT stock opened today on the Amex at $11.43 a share, up from $11.27 a share, cited on Dec. 1 in the preliminary prospectus filed with the SEC. At $11.43 a share, the offering would raise approximately $80 million.

The locally based hospitality REIT intends to grant underwriters a 30-day option to purchase a little more than one million shares to cover over-allotments. If exercised, it could add another $12 million in proceeds.

During a third-quarter conference call on Nov. 8, as GlobeSt.com reported, Jay Shah, CEO, acknowledged that Hersha’s debt leverage was higher than many of its peers. He told analysts, “there’s no silver bullet, but we will continue to whittle away at debt.” In a statement today, the company says it will use net proceeds of the offering to repay outstanding indebtedness under its revolving credit line.

A substantial portion of the credit line, according to the statement, was drawn to fund Hersha’s purchase of the remaining two-thirds interest in the joint venture with Orlando-based CNL Hospitality Partners. The JV acquired the Hampton Inn Manhattan-Chelsea this July. The remaining portion of proceeds from the offering will be used “to fund development loans, to make future investments, if any, in hotel assets and for general corporate purchases,” according to the statement. During the third-quarter conference call, Shah said he expected the company’s acquisitions pace to slow.

UBS Investment Bank and Wachovia Securities are the joint book-running managers of the offering. Raymond James is the lead manager, and Roberts W. Baird & Co. and Stifel Nicolaus are co-managers. Shares of HT reached a new 52-week high of $11.99 a share since its third-quarter financial report and conference call. The 52-week low is $8.70 a share.

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