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HOWARD JOHNSON EYEING WNY FOR NEW 'EXPRESS' MOTEL SITES

Howard Johnson has put out a "hit list" of 315 cities nationwide where it would like to expand its 500-plus-unit hotel chain, with Buffalo, Jamestown and Batavia making the grade.

"These areas represent valuable target markets that are vital to the growth of Howard Johnson," said Stephen Phillips, the company's president and chief executive officer. "We want to be in Buffalo, we need to be there."

Currently, there are four Howard Johnson properties on the Niagara Frontier, including a hotel on Transit Road in Williamsville and a HoJo Inn on Camp Road in Hamburg.

Phillips said most of the new hotels will be his company's new Howard Johnson Express prototype, a limited-service property that does not offer all the amenities of a full-service location. Generally, limited-service properties do not have restaurant service.

"For the most part, the new construction will be the 50- to 150-room Howard Johnson Express prototype," Phillips said.

Phillips had no specifics regarding who locally had been contacted or what sites are being scouted.

Howard Johnson plans 17 new properties in a total of 15 cities across the state, putting New York in the forefront of the hotel chain's plans. California, Michigan and Texas, each with 13 sites, tie for second place.

But don't look for the company's blue logo (the familiar orange roof was discarded more than 18 months ago) to appear anytime soon. Two long-time Buffalo-based hoteliers said Howard Johnson is beating the bushes with its announcement, hoping to stir interest among potential owners and property developers.

"It's common for franchisors to send out these hit lists of places they'd like to be," said David Hart, president of Hart Hotels. "They will contact local owners and property managers to see if there is any interest. Everybody does it."

Dennis Murphy, president of InnVest Lodging Services Inc., agreed, noting, "It (a list) is a typical marketing tool used by franchisors."

The Howard Johnson chain is owned by HFS Inc. of Parsippany, N.J.

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