Starbucks to double in size, beer garden also coming soon

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Hilton Knoxville has a new owner, and one with plans to invest more than $2 million into upgrades that include doubling the size of its Starbucks and creating a spruced up beer garden that features live music and food.

The Buccini/Pollin Group, a development and management company based out of Delaware, finalized the purchase of the 317-room downtown hotel last week for just over $25 million. The W. Church Avenue hotel, one of the largest in the area, will keep the Hilton brand.

Its new owners told WBIR 10News on Tuesday that they want to "add to the civic life of the city," and "continue to polish this great gem of an asset."

"We are long-term owners and operators and look forward to investing in this hotel . . . and we're going to be here employing people in the community and growing here (and) attracting business to this community that may not be here currently," said Dave Pollin, co-president of The Buccini/Pollin Group. "And, by making investments in this hotel, we think it can be an even better resource for the city."

Pollin said that during the next year the new owners plan to invest a little more than $2 million into a series of renovations that include upgrades to the ballroom; "selective investments" to the guest rooms, like replacing furniture and converting bathtubs into showers only; and replacing the outside patio with a beer garden.

"There's a lot of people who really enjoy being outdoors and in a climate like Knoxville, so we're going to give them a new place to play, to live, to work and to have meetings," he said. "Today it's really just a patio, but we're going to add some energy to it. We're going to add some design to it, some new finishes and we're going to take it in a new direction, so the people of Knoxville will have a new place to come and be social."

Pollin added that the Starbucks inside the hotel lobby also will undergo a "complete rebuilding," and officials plan to more than double its current size

The overall construction will create about 50 new jobs, Pollin said, and then the hotel will hire about 20 new workers.

It currently employs 125.

The hotel, which has changed ownership a number of times since opening in 1981, was initially built to help serve the 1982 World's Fair.

Most recently, Fairwood Capital bought it in March 2011 from Denver-based J. Herzog and Sons, an investment firm, for $19.4 million, and then put another $3 million into renovations.

The land and building was appraised at $19.4 million in 2013, according to the Knox County Property Assessor's Office. Personal property for the operation, which includes, equipment and furniture, was appraised at just under $2.7 million.

Ed Ansbro, executive vice president of Fairwood Capital, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Buccini/Pollin Group owns 26 hotels that are either open or under development in Delaware, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The Knoxville purchase will mark the company's first venture into the Tennessee market, and the owners said they are here for the long haul.

Pollin said Knoxville is "a lot more than a mid-size city," calling it an area that is "really booming and has the creative class" his partners sought.

"I feel like Knoxville is on a tear and we're not going to change the trajectory. We want to just play our role and support that and add to it, and we want to celebrate it," he said.

Rhonda Rice, executive vice president of the Knoxville Chamber, agreed.

She said that "as downtown continues to become a hot spot and thriving community," the area needs more places for folks to stay, and looks forward to the hotel's new additions.

"This new sale for the Hilton continues to prove that Knoxville is a great investment opportunity," she said. "The Hilton flag is one that we're proud to have here in Knoxville and the fact that if you have great quality rooms and a great atmosphere, which they bring to our community, then you're going to attract more people visiting our community."

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