Enjoying suite success

Former NFL star partners with Marriott to run hotels

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Former NFL star Donnell Thompson is used to making people take notice on a football field. Now this former Indianapolis Colt and head of Thompson Hospitality L.L.C. is making the hotel industry’s Marriott Corp. take notice.

Last fall, Thompson opened an 89-unit TownePlace Suites by Marriott in Columbia, South Carolina. The deal grew out of a three-year relationship Thompson had developed with the Marriott Corp. In 1998, he opened two Marriott-brand Fairfield Inn franchises, one in Macon, Georgia, and the other in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Their success made his company an ideal candidate for exposure to other Marriott brands. Thompson would only reveal that the cost of this latest project was “in excess of $7 million,” and indicated his out-of-pocket expenses were roughly 25% to 40% of that amount. The construction lender was Atlanta’s Compass Bank and the permanent lender was GMAC.

“Since I had already been doing some other brands with the company, it was a natural progression to do a TownePlace, Courtyard or full-service hotel,” says Thompson. “Our goal is to continue to build strong brands and to continue to associate ourselves with a strong company such as Marriott Corp. That’s kind of how it came about, and we feel that we’re just going to do one good deal at a time.”

To the Marriott Corp., making the CEO of Atlanta-based Thompson Hospitality L.L.C., a bigger part of its overall growth strategy seemed like a smart move. “Donnell has an excellent business background in general,” says Erika Alexander, brand vice president of TownePlace Suites by Marriott. “He very much fits the profile of a targeted Marriott franchisee. He is very, very passionate about his company, and he’s a hands-on owner-operator. That’s exactly what we’re looking for.”

Cognizant of local opportunities, Thompson proposed the Columbia location to Marriott when he saw that the area, boasting a new BMW plant, was bulking up economically. It looked like a ripe market for business travelers. Thompson purchased a site off I-26, behind the state’s largest mall, in an area of movie theaters and half-million-dollar homes.

Following Marriott’s design specifications, Thompson Hospitality developed the hotel from the ground up. It opened last November, and after just six weeks, occupancy reached the 50% range. Twenty guests had signed up for six-month stays. Thompson’s TownePlace Suites is the brand’s 50th iteration.

The Columbia, South Carolina, TownePlace franchise is 100% African American owned. Among investors are former Colts offensive lineman Chris Hinton, former Baltimore Orioles player Eddie Murray and Cleveland Indians centerfielder Kenny Lofton.

“We’ve grown pretty fast. Now we’ve got a new property under construction over in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and we’re getting ready to do a new Fairfield Inn not too far from our TownePlace,” Thompson says. “So we’ve had a great relationship with the whole Marriott staff. I retooled all my people. I took some of the people with me from the fast-food industry and we set up training classes and they’ve been very good making sure we are a success and therefore they in turn will be successful.”