Ex-Lexington Collection CEO Belmonte launches Centerstone Inns

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA Hotel industry veteran Steve Belmonte is launching a new franchising company, built on the backbone of Key West Inns.

Centerstone Inns, Hotels & Plaza Hotels is a three-segment brand that aims to remove “unreasonable mandates” on franchisees. With operations offices in Birmingham, Alabama, and development headquarters in Orlando, Centerstone will launch over the next three months with the conversion of approximately 20 Key West Inns properties.

“For years, I have preached about fair franchising. Today, I’m putting my money where my mouth is by launching a hotel brand that I truly believe in,” says Belmonte, most recently president and CEO of Vantage Hospitality’s Lexington Collection. “Together with my partners, Neal Jackson and Cory Jackson Jr., we have created a hotel franchise that truly is ‘the fairest of them all.’ With a low cost of entry, low fee structure, short-term agreements, Internet marketing support, dynamic reservation system and more, we are providing hotel owners with a viable franchise alternative.”

Centerstone’s guest-service programs will include the ‘Certified Clean’ rooms program, the ‘Front & Center’ loyalty rewards program, the ‘Lucky Centerstone’ giveaway program and the ‘Start the Day with a Smile’ guest appreciation program.

Centerstone’s franchise fees are approximately 2.6% of gross room revenue, compared to the competition of approximately 12.7% across its three segment tiers, according to Belmonte. The group will grow by both conversions and new construction.

The Centerstone Inns brand will feature minimum 2-star ratings, interior and exterior corridors, in-room coffee, and free Internet. The Centerstone Hotels brand will boast minimum 3-star ratings, a full-service restaurant or complimentary breakfast, in-room coffee and free Internet. The upscale Centerstone Plaza Hotels brand will offer an onsite restaurant and lounge, meeting and function space, fitness center, business center and in-room coffee. All participate in the “Certified Clean” room program.

“This is a real brand that meets the needs of real hotel owners and exceeds the expectations of real guests who have come to expect quality, consistency and value,” Belmonte says. “Over the next several weeks, we will be introducing very cool and lucrative programs for guests and owners that will quickly drive Centerstone to the forefront of the franchise community as the brand of choice for fairness, friendliness and fun.”

Neal Jackson, president of Centerstone Hotels, describes the brand as “a better way to do business.” While the brand is designed to be franchise-friendly, he says it also contains the revenue-generation infrastructure of a major brand. “With this new brand, hotel owners get the best of both worlds,” Jackson says. “The affordable fee structure eases the monthly expense burden, but it’s the revenue-generating programs that are the most exciting. Centerstone Hotels will work closely with each property on Internet marketing, assuring that each hotel is front and center on the Internet with great photos, great content and a high degree of visibility.

“The features and functionality of the reservations system are amazing, but what we have found is that property managers don’t have the time or understanding to properly utilize these valuable tools. At Centerstone, your own personal revenue enhancement manager will be appointed to deliver continuous support with Internet marketing, reservations optimization, group programs and more, including working with each property’s management team to set and administer brand expectations.”

The goal of the revenue enhancement manager is to communicate corporate revenue programs and brand initiatives, provide ongoing education and training, assist in competitive market analysis and overall yield management, and also assist with Web optimization.

Belmonte began his hospitality career as the youngest general manager in the history of Holiday Inn, at the age of 18. Later he was cofounder, president and CEO of Equity Hotel Corp., at which time owned and managed 40 hotels in 15 states. He then served as president and CEO of the Ramada Hotel Chain for more than 11 years, and also served as executive vice president of the Cendant Hotel Division. In 2002, Belmonte returned to his entrepreneurial roots by launching Hospitality Solutions LLC to offer franchise negotiations services and discount real-estate brokerage. He is the former chairman of the American Hotel & Lodging Foundation and the Educational Institute.