New Mexico-based Heritage Hotels & Resorts looks to buy Inn and Spa at Loretto

New Mexico-based Heritage Hotels & Resorts has an agreement in place to purchase the Inn and Spa at Loretto, which would be the company’s fifth hotel property in downtown Santa Fe. Clyde Mueller/New Mexican file photo

Heritage Hotels & Resorts, a homegrown New Mexico company on a growth binge, has entered into an agreement to purchase the Inn and Spa at Loretto, a hotel that occupies a historic corner on Old Santa Fe Trail that once was home to an academy for girls.

If the deal is finalized, the purchase would make Heritage the owner of five hotels in Santa Fe, including the 219-room Eldorado Hotel & Spa. Heritage also owns Hotel Chimayó de Santa Fe, which has 56 rooms; the 80-room Hotel St. Francis; and The Lodge at Santa Fe, a property with 125 rooms and prices that often fall under $100 a night.

The company, founded by Jim Long of Albuquerque, recently finished construction on the 118-room Hotel Chaco in Albuquerque’s Old Town, and owns the nearby Hotel Albuquerque.

In 2015, Heritage purchased the world-class El Monte Sagrado resort in Taos after the original developer struggled with financial problems.

Heritage spokeswoman Maresa Thompson said the company had no comment Tuesday on the possible purchase of the Inn and Spa at Loretto.

The New Mexican has confirmed, however, that there is a purchase agreement in place, and hotel employees have been notified of a possible transaction. A hotel events manager at Loretto confirmed Tuesday the deal is in a due diligence period and said the owners would not comment.

The 136-room Inn and Spa at Loretto was built by Jim Kirkpatrick of Santa Fe, who purchased the property at 211 Old Santa Fe Trail from the Sisters of Loretto.

“The Sisters arrived in Santa Fe in 1852 and opened the Academy of Our Lady of Light (Loretto) in 1853,” the hotel’s website says. “The school was soon founded and grew from very small beginnings to a school of around 300 students, despite the challenges of the territory (smallpox, tuberculosis, leaky mud roofs and even a brush with the rowdy Confederate Texans during the Civil War).”

“The campus covered a square block with 10 buildings,” and included what is now Loretto Chapel, the website says.

The academy closed in 1968.

Kirkpatrick sold both the land and the hotel to Noble House in 1996, and that company sold it again in 2008 to an investment company that handles pension funds for teachers.

Kirkpatrick and his family have retained ownership of the Loretto Chapel, which is operated as a private business, offering tours of the building and its legendary staircase. The Loretto Chapel LLC also offers space for weddings and a gift shop.

Kirkpatrick owns the land on the corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Water Street, next to the Loretto Chapel, and is trying to gain zoning approval from the city for a commercial and residential development project that would include underground parking.

Long, the founder and chief executive officer of Heritage, told Lodging magazine that his family traces its roots back 400 years in New Mexico, and his uncle was a the last Franciscan priest to preside over Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi before its acquisition by the diocese.

His hotels highlight the rich culture and history of New Mexico. The newest, the $40 million Hotel Chaco, tells the story of the Chaco people and offers cultural tours and transportation to Chaco Canyon and other archaeological sites in the state.

“Today, the hospitality industry is largely made up of a hotel brand approach that is highly uniform and, at times, not culturally distinctive,” he told the magazine. “While we believe that approach gives customers a satisfactory experience, it’s rarely memorable. So we’re always looking to create something with a unique soul and DNA.”

When Long purchased El Monte Sagrado, the 84-room retreat on 10 acres was one of just a dozen hotels in the state with a top rating from AAA. Built in 2003, the owners expanded too quickly and got into a cash crunch before spending some $75 million.

“Our acquisition cost is a small fraction of that number,” he told the Albuquerque Journal in September 2015.

Richard Verruni, the general manger of the Bishop’s Lodge Ranch Resort & Spa, which is closed for a major renovation, said Heritage has shown its commitment to Santa Fe, and that returning the Loretto hotel to in-state ownership has to be a positive for the community.

“We applaud them for having the courage to make a significant investment in Santa Fe,” Verruni said.

With one company controlling five properties in Santa Fe — some 700 rooms out of 2,000 available — prices are bound to go up, he said. That will allow other hotels to increase their room rates, and may help the overall economy if it results in more hiring.

“If the rates are maximized through their efforts, that will give all the hotels the opportunity to employ more people and help generate more revenue,” Verruni said.

Santa Fe is already the most expensive hotel market in the state, with room rates averaging $100 in the off-season and as much as $300 a night during the peak summer months. Higher prices could deter guests from staying downtown or make it more difficult for some visitors to come to Santa Fe altogether.

Contact Bruce Krasnow at 505-986-3034 or brucek@sfnewmexican.com.

Largest Santa Fe hotels

Largest hotel properties in downtown Santa Fe, by number of rooms

• Eldorado Hotel & Spa, 219

• Drury Plaza Hotel, 182

• La Fonda on the Plaza, 180

• Hotel Santa Fe, 163

• Hilton Santa Fe, 158

• Sage Inn, 157

• Inn and Spa at Loretto, 136

• Inn of the Governors, 100

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