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Developers plan to build 15 hotels in NH, Mass.

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 27. 2013 10:57PM
An artist's rendering of the Hampton Inn now under construction on the corner of Maplewood Avenue and Deer Street in Portsmouth. (Courtesy)

This aerial photo shows the construction site of the new Hampton Inn, with the existing Residence Inn and Portsmouth Harbor Events and Conference center to the left. Courtesy

HOOKSETT - Mark Stebbins and his partner, Leo Xarras, are bullish on the hotel industry - so bullish that they intend to build 15 hotels in the next two to three years, with one now under construction in Portsmouth and groundbreakings scheduled this summer in Worcester and Cambridge, Mass.

Their hotel company, Colwen Management, already owns 25 hotels throughout the Northeast and has 1,600 employees. "The 15 hotels will double our company in size," said Xarras. "We will double in room numbers, employees and more than double in revenue."

On Monday, corporate headquarters for Colwen and the 30 employees who work there will move from offices on Tara Boulevard in Nashua to the Commerce Center office park in Portsmouth, close to one of the company's existing Homewood Suite hotels.

The move to Portsmouth marks another milestone for a company that grew out of Pro Con Construction, a firm with deep roots in the Manchester area and offices in Hooksett.

Stebbins' father, Herb Stebbins, a longtime community leader and Manchester's 1989 Citizen of the Year, started Pro Con in the 1970s. By the 1980s, Mark Stebbins was running the company and by the 1990s branching out to hotel ownership and management.

Six years ago, he partnered with Xarras, and the two never looked back. "I already owned some hotels, and he did as well," Stebbins said. "We merged them, and the growth really started."

Pro Con designs and builds the hotels; Colwen takes over operations and management; and a third company owned by the two men, XSS Hotels, handles the interior design and purchasing. All three companies also provide the same services for third parties.

The formula worked well during the recession in 2009 and 2010, when many of the hotels in the group's portfolio were constructed. "Leo and I built several hotels during the recession, and now with the economy picking up we've decided to really put the pedal to the metal," Stebbins said. "We have some fantastic sites. We are concentrating in Greater Boston and the Greater New York area, but New Hampshire is our home base."

The company's largest holdings remain in New Hampshire, with three hotels in Portsmouth, four in Manchester and three in Keene. The Portsmouth hotels include a new Hilton Garden Inn and Residence Inn in the downtown, as well as the Homewood Suites near the corporate offices. A Hampton Inn under construction in downtown Portsmouth is one of the 15 new projects in the pipeline.

"Portsmouth has everything you need for the hotel business," Stebbins said. "It has a lot of private businesses, especially the way the Pease International Tradeport has grown, and it has a lot of governmental business, with the naval shipyard. Then it has great tourism business on the weekends and during the summer."

From new headquarters in the Port City, Stebbins and Xarras will preside over their ambitious expansion plans. Construction of a new Hampton Inn in Worcester, Mass., starting this summer, will bring to three the number of hotels they own in the Bay State's second largest city.

The company has two other hotels under construction near Boston and one in Orangetown, N.Y. Another 10 sites in the planning stages include a Hilton Garden Inn in Lebanon.

The partners believe that New England and New York markets are ripe for hotel construction, given the age of many hotels and the dearth of construction in the past five years. "Hotels have a natural lifespan, somewhere between 20 to 30 years," said Stebbins, "and if there isn't constant replacement, you get a shortage. Worcester lost 400 rooms during the recession because none were added."

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