Matt Cowden was a happy man last week. As general manager of downtown's Sheraton Hotel he has grown accustomed to seeing his competitors get the spotlight — but this time his hotel was the center of attention.
Despite spending millions on renovations at the 35-year-old hotel, community focus before last week was more likely to shift to either the historic Skirvin Hilton, the equally historic and upscale Colcord Hotel, or the modern Renaissance Hotel.
And when it came time for guessing which downtown hotel would host President Barack Obama last week, most observers assumed the Skirvin would resume its historic bragging rights as the preferred lodging for our nation's leaders when they stayed the night in Oklahoma City. And if not the Skirvin, certainly the Colcord or the Renaissance hotels would be next on the list for such an esteemed guest.
But it was Cowden who stood at his hotel's entrance, beaming even as he was forbidden — at the moment — from verifying that his guest list included anyone more powerful than the forward-center with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves.
A variety of reasons led to the Sheraton hosting Obama. For the Colcord, a presidential visit would have bestowed an aura of legitimacy to its effort to establish itself as downtown's finest boutique hotel.
But with the ground floor a construction zone and surrounding streets torn up as part of Project 180, the Colcord was struck off the list by the president's advance team.
The Skirvin Hotel, extensively renovated and restored five years ago by Marcus Hotels and Resorts, was booked up with guests attending that night's game between the Timberwolves and the Thunder.
The same story took place at the Renaissance Hotel, though it did host much of the president's advance team and members of the Secret Service.
For the Sheraton, the president's visit confirms it remains a competitor in the downtown's vibrant full-service hotel market. Such wasn't the case just a dozen years ago, when the hotel was showing the wear and tear of its years, and the competition didn't exist.
Before the full realization of the city's Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS), the Sheraton was the only downtown hotel left — and visiting dignitaries, including presidents, were more likely to stay at the Waterford Hotel in northwest Oklahoma City.
Now, almost 20 years after the initial passing of the first MAPS program, neither torn-up streets nor NBA-fueled chaos can keep anyone, including the president, from trying to book a room downtown.