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DBC: New hotel and convention center already exceeding expectations

On each hotel room door of the 11th floor of the Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center, there's a checklist to keep track of what has been installed. 

While the televisions aren't mounted and the headboards lean against the walls without mattresses, everything will be in place soon. And officials hope that in six weeks the first guests of the hotel will be able to spend the night in any of the 318 rooms. 

Denton's new hotel and convention center will host its first event the first week of December, said Todd Muilenburg, director of sales for the hotel. To date, it has booked roughly $2.7 million worth of business, as far out as 2024. 

The goal is to have $4 million in conventions annually, said Jeff Pritts, the hotel's general manager. 

"It will take us three to four years to get there," Pritts said. "When we reach that goal, every person that comes to this market, we have them for a day, then they're going to be downtown, they're going to be in Rayzor Ranch. They're going to be spending their money in Denton. It will be a huge economic impact. Once we're full staffed, probably by summer, we'll be 10th-largest private employer in Denton."

The project has been 10 years in the making, with different developers, brands and pieces of property discussed. Kim Phillips, vice president of the Denton Convention & Visitors Bureau, said she remembers rumblings about wanting a convention center when she started on the job 15 years ago. 

Lots of state associations are booking their annual gatherings here because the city had never been an option for them, she said. 

"Right now, Denton is the new kid on the block," she said. "Denton has never had a venue like this in its history, so we're ripe to be able to bring in a lot of convention business in the next few years, because nobody's ever been here for these kinds of conventions. It's an all-new thing, and people are excited about it." 

Her office has secured about $1.6 million in convention business for the center, she said. While it's working on statewide organizations, the sales team at the hotel is working on leads for more national and international groups. 

So, what are they selling? 

The 70,000-square-foot convention center has three ballroom spaces, each with a Denton theme: the University Ballroom, the Equestrian Ballroom and the Golden Triangle Ballroom. 

Each space is outfitted with a more modern design than traditional ballrooms. There's exposed ductwork, with wooden panels holding up round chandeliers. 

The University Ballroom is the largest, fitting 1,850 people at a time. The two smaller rooms have floor-to-ceiling windows. The Golden Triangle room opens up to an outdoor yard and event space. 

The lawn will be synthetic grass and has bracing to put up large tents. It will have a giant chess set and other games. Plus, there's a large resort-style pool, splash pad and another pool that can be glassed-in to become an indoor pool when the weather calls for it, Muilenburg said. 

Initial plans called for just one pool and a hot tub, but they decided to add more water features and replace the hot tub with a splash pad to add more functionality. That means the hotel has resort amenities and features like bigger hotels in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, Muilenburg said. 

"We want to take business away from the Omnis and Marriotts and bring them to Denton," he said. 

The entire facility will be LEED Gold certified, and is outfitted with 1,000 solar panels and plenty of natural light effects. 

The LEED designation, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a building program of the U.S. Green Building Council that verifies the building was built in a sustainable way. A lot of companies and international businesses are looking at only partnering with properties with the designation, Phillips said. 

"Certain types of clients have LEED designation as a requirement, and they only meet in these facilities because part of their mission is supporting sustainable initiatives," she said. "That gives us a leg up when we're in a competitive bidding situation, which is the case a lot of the time."

The convention center space segues into the back of the hotel's common space. 

Visitors who enter the hotel will see a large staircase, lots of seating and a big chandelier made of brass trumpets above the check-in desk. Yes, trumpets.

Next to the check-in desk will be a small grab-and-go area, complete with a Starbucks. Initially it was going to just be a place for visitors to grab necessities, but it's turned into a place to showcase local products like Audacity Brew House beers and have fresh salads and sandwiches. 

"We really want to showcase Denton right here," Muilenburg said. "There will be thousands and thousands of people who have never seen Denton before because there's never been a convention center here. A lot of time people come to these conventions and they stay in their hotel — but if we can catch them right here and show them what's out there, like go hit the Square, all these unique restaurants, that's our goal."

Another way to showcase Denton will be shuttle services to different spots around town, he said. An exact route of shuttle stops hasn't been determined, but Muilenburg envisions it will stop at the downtown Square, maybe Golden Triangle Mall and the University of North Texas. 

The bar and breakfast area are larger than other Embassy Suites, complete with plenty of restaurant-style seating. This is on purpose: The bar will be open longer hours than the daily evening reception with complimentary drinks. And, the included breakfast is one of the most popular aspects of staying at Embassy Suites, but can be a source of frustration for managers, Pritts said. 

"You will do 1,000 to 2,000 breakfasts, so how do you get them through in three hours? Extra space," he said. "Here, the flow just goes easily. There's two buffets that are exactly the same, two cooktops and an extra coffee station." 

In addition to the dining options at the hotel, a Houlihan's restaurant is part of the space. The restaurant includes a private dining room that can seat 20 guests and a large outdoor patio. 

The restaurant should open at the same time as the rest of the hotel and convention center, Muilenburg said. That opening is up to the executives at Hilton. 

The suite-style rooms are close to being completed as well. At Embassy Suites properties, most units are two-room suites, so there's a living room area with a sofa and then the sleeping area with a king-size bed or two queens. Pricing will be a bit lower for the first months the hotel is open, with rooms starting at $129. The most expensive room is the 1,100-square-foot Presidential Suite, at $599 per night. 

This property also has studio suites, a more traditional hotel room that starts at 400 square feet, Muilenburg said. These studio suites are on corners of the building with floor-to-ceiling windows, still equipped with the classic pull-out sofa. 

"These are actually my favorite rooms in the hotel," Muilenburg said. "They're a little smaller, but they're unlike any Embassy Suites room I've ever seen, and I've been with the Hilton brand for more than 10 years." 

Even without the adjoining convention center, the property is at a level the city has never had before, Phillips said. 

"We will have the No. 1 Embassy Suites — it's not your mama's Embassy Suites. This is a brand-new look; this is one notch above," she said. "It's a level of property that Denton has never had. It adds a layer to what Denton has to offer."

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889.

IN THE KNOW 

The hotel and convention center will host its first job fair this week. 

Where: Texas Woman's University Student Union, 304 Administration Drive, Room 207 

When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20, and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21

For: full- and part-time housekeepers, dishwashers, laundry service workers and food servers 

For additional information, email embassydenton@gmail.com.