Jim Alty – Choice Hotels Int.
“I like to joke with owners that the day they see their first guest is when I vaporize,” says Alty, the company’s project manager, construction support.
He joined Choice Hotels in April 2018 and concentrates on the Gulf Coast region from Texas to Florida while Cheryl Popp, Chris Sutter and Ed Ostrom work in other regions. Patrick Bauer supports new construction for the WoodSpring Suites extended stay brand.
Alty is on hand beginning when owners sign a contract to build a Choice brand hotel for what’s typically a two- or three-year construction process, he says. His work includes helping owners and architects with design details and assisting owners as they navigate getting approval from local governing boards and financing from banks.
“My job is to make everything as painless as possible,” Alty says. “The best use of my skills is with new owners who look at me and ask, ‘Now what do I do?’”
With 22 brands including Cambria, Comfort, Clarion, MainStay and Econo Lodge, as well as the Radisson America’s portfolio acquired in August 2022, Choice Hotels has more than 7,400 hotels and more than 625,000 rooms in 45 countries and territories.
Alty works with owners for seven of the company’s middle-priced brands, including Radisson Country Inn & Suites and Park, whether the owners building a new hotel are experienced or just coming into the industry.
“I work with owners to help them build a hotel without wasting time or money and avoiding traps new owners sometimes fall into,” Alty says.
Though the hotel site has already been selected by the owners and approved by Choice Hotels, Alty says owners, especially those who are new to the hospitality industry, may not fully grasp the nuances of communicating with architects to meet brand requirements.
Choice Hotels has palettes showing how rooms should look and Alty can provide guidance on what types of toilets, sinks and showers can be installed. There is some leeway—for instance, hotel owners operating on Native American lands can incorporate design touches in decor and furnishings to reflect the area’s cultural history.
“Most of the questions I get aren’t about concrete, steel or timber for construction,” Alty says. “The questions are about exteriors, carpet and furnishings.”
New brands, new designs
He also assists owners in writing business plans needed for commercial loans. Alty adds that new owners may not be as aware of how a contract can expose them to too much liability.
In Florida, where the tourist industry has rebounded from the COVID-19 pandemic, Alty is helping owners open the new Rise & Shine prototypes of the Comfort Inn brand. He also recently attended meetings about standards for the Everhome brand of extended stay lodgings.
Extended stay hotels are designed to accommodate guests who need more of a home setting for stays of a month or more. While the guests offer some stability because they’ll be there longer, accommodations are typically suites with a separate bedroom and an area for working. Guests also aren’t going to be eating in restaurants every day, so the suites have kitchenettes, full-sized refrigerators and dishwashers. The hotels also feature onsite fitness and guest laundry facilities.
Before construction can start, owners are likely to need municipal or county approval for the projects. That can require navigating a plethora of zoning and environmental rules and standards, such as parking or stormwater and wastewater disposal, as well as how many floors are allowed.
Though architects frequently represent owners at planning or zoning board meetings because of their expertise, Alty says new owners may not realize that it’s crucial to attend meetings as the face of development, and if he’s asked to, Alty may attend planning meetings to represent the Choice brand.
He and his colleagues also developed a network of contractors for construction. He frequently works with NashBuilt Inc., a Pensacola, Florida-based contractor that has built hotels in locations including Panama City, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
“NashBuilt has a great transparent process and are knowledgeable in how to build hotels,” Alty says.
A feel for facilities
Alty was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma, but his family moved frequently as his father served in the U.S. Air Force. His high school years were spent in Tampa, Florida. In 1981, he earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and began 20 years of service in the Army.
While serving as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Alty also earned master’s degrees in civil and mechanical engineering from Stanford University, both in 1990.
After he retired from the Army, Alty began working in facilities management in higher education, first as associate director of facilities services at the University of Texas at Austin from October 2001 to June 2004.
He also spent six years as associate vice president for facilities campus services at Wake Forest University and two years as associate vice president of facilities campus development at Tulane University.
Alty left higher education for high-tech in June 2015 when he became national director of applied materials for ABM industries. From November 2016 through August 2017, he was senior director of facilities management for BPL Plasma. He then founded Leaders in Facilities Management in August 2017 to consult and provide analysis for facilities management companies in central Texas.
“I enjoy this role with Choice Hotels because it allows me to give back my expertise without being in charge of a project,” Alty says. “I don’t need to wake up worrying about a construction schedule. I do the handholding in a gentle way.”
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