Right partner, right place for Disneyland-area Westin

ANAHEIM, CA—Shovels went into dirt on Sept. 13 for the first new-build Westin hotel in Southern California in more than 25 years.

The 613-room Westin Anaheim Resort, across the street from the Disneyland Resort and adjacent the expansion of the Anaheim Convention Center, is coming out of the ground via Hong Kong-based Wincome Group, headquartered here.

The seven-story, $245-million project is sited on the former location of the Anabella Hotel, which Wincome owned for close to two decades.

Paul Sanford
Wincome Group

According to Paul Sanford, asset manager for Wincome Group, the decision to insert a Westin into the robust and growing market was driven by the need for a luxury hotel in Anaheim.

“There are no non-Disney Four-Diamond hotels that aren’t on its campus,” said Sanford, noting the same applied to the area surrounding the convention center, which is set to open its two-level, 200,000-sq.-ft. expansion at the end of this month. “We’re a long-term player in the Anaheim market—we’ve been here almost 30 years—and we [decided]we would do the investment and bring that to the market now.”

What’s coming is a hotel that will feature 101 suites as part of the guestroom mix, three restaurants, two bars, including a rooftop lounge from which guests can watch the Disneyland fireworks display, fitness center and a marketplace. Sanford said the 20,000 sq. ft. of retail space would include “local successful restaurants, unique breweries and dining experiences.”

Also, to meet what is expected to be expanded convention center business and additional corporate meetings and events, the hotel will feature 11 meeting rooms totaling 42,000 sq. ft. of space, including a 16,000-sq.-ft. grand ballroom. The space is aimed at higher-end groups that previously have had limited options in the area.

Michael Hong Architects + Dianna Wong Architecture and Interior Design are helping advance the project, which is slated to open in 2020 on the 7.5-acre site.

Sanford acknowledged raising a Four-Diamond property had been on Wincome’s agenda since acquiring the West Katella Ave. site in 1998, but feasibility studies done at that time did not support a large, Four-Diamond hotel. “So at that time we invested about $27 million and redid what was the Anabella, which operated extremely successfully until the day it closed,” he said, adding: “But it wasn’t a full utilization of the land.”

Last year, the City of Anaheim came out with a Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) rebate program providing a catalyst for Wincome Group to revisit its original plans.

“We signed up for that TOT and we were successful in being awarded the 20-year rebate for Four-Diamond hotels,” said Sanford.

With big-box product from Hilton and Marriott already operating proximate the city-owned convention center, Wincome reasoned a Westin [or SPG-affiliated brand]was the best product to bring to the market, said Sanford.

“There were studies done back in 2004/2005 by the city about adding a hotel on to the convention center expansion and at that time the community decided Westin was the best product for that location. The recession came in, they didn’t end up building out that location and they ended up doing the expansion without a hotel,” said Sanford, indicating, “[Westin] is a well-known product with a very good loyalty program [SPG] and it’s one that isn’t represented in the marketplace.”

And it’s a marketplace that’s demanding “more unique, luxurious accommodations and higher-end perceived value in a resort,” he said, suggesting the Disney “halo” effect is just one aspect making the area strong.

Jay Burress, president/CEO of Visit Anaheim, noted, “On the heels of the Anaheim Convention Center expansion, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and a number of other new developments coming online, luxury hotels are critical to Anaheim’s continued success in attracting tourists and convention business.”

Tiffany Cooper
Marriott International

Getting the Westin brand into the market has been something Tiffany Cooper, VP of lodging development, Marriott International, has been trying to accomplish for about a dozen years. Migrating from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide following its acquisition by Marriott last year, Cooper has been pursuing opportunities for the brand, looking at conversions new-construction. “But Starwood at that time, and ultimately Marriott, was very deliberate in waiting for truly the best opportunity for the Westin brand, knowing how important that Anaheim market would be for the brand. We’ve been working on it for a long time so it’s about time we got it,” said Cooper.

She noted the market dynamics have been improving from a “pure feasibility” standpoint for such a project, adding the TOT subsidy is a “huge contributor” whereby Wincome Group could build the property.

“Could we have built a Westin 10 years ago? Sure. But it seems all the planets and stars have aligned, especially with this owner/operator,” said Cooper. “We always look at it as having the right partners in the right places with the right brands, and we’ve certainly checked every box as far as that is concerned.”

Wincome has other properties in California. In Costa Mesa, it owns the Four-Diamond Avenue of the Arts Hotel, which is part of Marriott International’s Tribute Portfolio. In Anaheim, it owns the Anaheim Hotel on Harbor Blvd., which is under a multimillion-dollar renovation to remain in operation for the short term; however, Sanford indicated Wincome is exploring another Four-Diamond luxury development for that site. And some 18 months ago it sold its 133-room Carousel Inn & Suites in Anaheim, which it acquired in 1988, to Disney. HB

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