Nickelodeon launching Marriott hotel chain

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NEW YORK -- Nickelodeon, Marriott International and real estate development company Miller Global Properties said Thursday that they are partnering to launch a new worldwide family hotel chain called Nickelodeon Resorts by Marriott.

The first hotel, filled with such favorite Nickelodeon characters as SpongeBob SquarePants, Diego and Dora the Explorer, is set to open in early 2010 in San Diego, and plans call for 20 hotels around the world by 2020.

"We're here to unveil the next great chapter for Nickelodeon: connecting with kids and families everywhere," said Judy McGrath, chairman and CEO of MTV Networks, which operates Nickelodeon. "It's a terrific next step forward with a world-class partner for our booming recreation business."

Water parks will be the focal point of the hotels, where even the guest rooms and restaurants will be built with Nickelodeon themes for kids in mind, said J.W. Marriott Jr., chairman and CEO of Marriott International.

"Besides being a great destination resort for families, we believe that these exciting properties will also attract younger adults and the young at heart," he said. "We expect these resorts to fill a very important segment of the marketplace, and we're very enthusiastic about the prospects for this new brand."

He said Miller Global will be the primary owner and developer of the hotels, which will be managed by Marriott. Miller Global plans to seed an investment fund that is expected to initially provide $300 million of dedicated development equity capital. For its part, Nickelodeon will receive undisclosed brand licensing fees.

The first Nickelodeon resort in San Diego will be a 650-room property on 18 acres at Liberty Station, which will incorporate a 100,000-square-foot water park and activity deck complex featuring a variety of pools and interactive attractions.

Designed by international architectural firm Gensler, the resort is expected to break ground in January 2008 and open in early 2010. Other locations are under consideration at family-oriented resort destinations in the U.S., the Caribbean, Mexico, the U.K., Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

"There's not a gadget or a screen where kids can't get to their best friends Dora, Diego, Drake & Josh, Neopets or the Naked Brothers Band," McGrath said. "And now they can share the good times with all of us on another frontier -- the wildest adventure of them all -- the family vacation."

Cyma Zarghami, president of Nickelodeon and MTVN Kids and Family Group, said that based on market research the network conducted with kids focus groups at Nickelodeon's pilot hotel -- Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn in Orlando -- Nick realized that "bringing to life in physical manifestation the Nickelodeon brand and all of its its fabulous attributes" was an opportunity it needed to expand.

"This partnership with Marriott to bring the Nickelodeon experience to families all over the world comes at the perfect time, as the first generation of kids who grew up with our brand now have come of age and are having families of their own. It signals the beginning of a new era for the Nickelodeon brand."

Rick Hoffman, executive vp of Marriott, claimed the new Nickelodeon resorts would create "the leading brand name" in the growing category of waterpark hotels. "We are going to be taking water parks to another level. With integrated activities, live entertainment and some of the most popular characters in the world these resorts will be much more than a hotel with a pool. They're going to create an unforgettable family travel experience."

The agreement does not affect the Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn in Orlando, which is managed by Miller Global and is under a franchise agreement until March 2009. But Miller said it will be exploring options to incorporate the Orlando hotel into its new partnership with Marriott and Nickelodeon once the agreement expires.
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