City officials tour Macon’s newest hotel/convention center

Macon officials strapped on hardhats today and took a tour of the new Macon Marriott City Center hotel that is scheduled to open early this fall.

Atlanta-based Noble Investment Group is building a 220-room, full-service convention center hotel with a restaurant, lounge and 5,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel is being constructed on a nearly 4-acre tract next to the Macon Coliseum and Wilson Convention Center.

Noble and Marriott officials said they expect to open the hotel for business around Sept. 10. Rooms have already been presold for the end of September, they said, and about 40 groups have been booked from October through the end of the year. Hotel management is being assembled -- General Manager David Rosenberg and Sales Director Pat Horan already are at work. And all of the city’s full time employees working at Centreplex properties have been offered jobs, Rosenberg said.

Noble also is getting ready to begin sprucing up the convention center. Meeting rooms will get new carpet, a new paintjob, new ceiling tiles, faster Internet and upgraded audio/visual capabilities. There will also be new furnishings and new banquet service materials, officials said.

“The presentation here we think can be enhanced dramatically,” said Mark Rafuse, Noble’s chief development officer.

Gary Womack, the project manager for Noble, said he is happy with the progress so far, and the hotel will open on schedule and on budget. Through the sale of revenue bonds, Macon has contributed about $10 million to the $37 million project.

“Our contractor is working like crazy in all areas,” Womack told City Council members and Mayor Robert Reichert.

City officials picked their way through the construction site this afternoon, getting an up-close look at what will be the hotel’s lobby, restaurant and kitchen area, ballroom and meeting facilities. They peered toward east Macon from the windows of an unfinished 8th floor hospitality lounge and walked through second floor guestrooms that already have carpet on the floor and paint on the walls.

“This is going to be a really nice venue for a variety of events,” from weddings to family reunions to overnight stays to statewide conventions, Reichert said. “They’ll handle it all.”

When construction is completed and the hotel opens, it will represent the culimination of one of the city’s more strenuous efforts in recent history.

For several years, Macon officials talked seriously about building a convention center hotel. In late 2005, a committee of community leaders and then-Mayor Jack Ellis picked a proposal to build the hotel on private land across the street from the convention center.

That plan, put forward by National Ventures Macon, included a number of local movers and shakers. But the council overruled that recommendation and instead chose Noble, setting off intense debate in the community.

But council members were mostly smiling Tuesday.

“There’s one word to describe this, and it’s ‘Awesome,’ ” said Mike Cranford, the Appropriations Committee chairman who had once expressed doubts about the deal before it came together. “It will bring something special to Macon that we haven’t had in a long time.”

Two of the council members who represent Ward I, where the hotel sits, were equally pleased.

“I’m delighted with it,” said Councilman Rick Hutto, adding that he and his family frequently stay in Marriott hotels when they travel.

Councilwoman Elaine Lucas said after seeing the outside of the building, she enjoyed her tour and chance to see how the inside looks.

“It’s just thrilling,” she said. “Thrilling.”

To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.