Up to 1,700 hotel rooms are being added in Greater Gainesville over the next two years.
The long list of hotels under construction or in the planning phase includes two boutique hotels — Hotel Indigo at Celebration Pointe and Marriott AC at the Standard, across from the University of Florida entrance.
Along Archer Road, there is construction of a new Drury Inn & Suites. East of Archer Road, a property intended for a hotel sold in January, but the type of hotel hasn’t been determined.
The former Lodge hotel near Archer Road and I-75 reopened in October as a DoubleTree by Hilton, after a $13 million renovation.
The largest proposed project — a downtown Embassy Suites and conference center — appears to be beginning progress after nearly two years of delays.
All this adds up to big numbers. An estimated 850 rooms are expected to open during 2017, with possibly another 850 in 2018, said Joleen Cacciatore, executive director of the Gainesville Sports Commission.
On the positive side economically, demand is growing. More people are visiting town on business, medical care and sporting events, said John Pricher, executive director of Visit Gainesville, the county government’s tourism agency. Alachua County lodging occupancy is above the statewide level (hovering around 70 percent, depending on the month), daily room rates have risen by a couple bucks in the past year and demand is growing. “The innovation economy is increasing corporate travel. UF Health and North Florida Regional Medical Center are expanding,” Pricher said.
Summer hotel occupancy is up, due in part to activities brought to town by the Gainesville Sports Commission and by youth baseball and softball tournaments at Champions Park of Newberry, he said.
On the other hand, added competition raises a question for Ron Gromoll, general manager at Best Western Gateway Grand. “I don’t see enough demand now,” he said. “In the mind of us hoteliers, the saturation point is now, although I hope that plans for a new fairgrounds and other efforts to increase demand will help increase business.”
CONFERENCE CENTER PROGRESSING
Since 2010, the City of Gainesville has been trying to work with a developer to build a conference center downtown — based on the economic potential of bringing more business to town.
Two years ago, Atlanta-based Horizon Hospitality Management proposed building a 12-story hotel with 200 guest rooms, a high-end restaurant and 30,000 square feet of Class A office space.
The $54 million project would include 25,000 square feet of meeting space, with the largest ballroom able to accommodate 600 people banquet-style.
The structure would be built on Lot 10, a block-size parcel bounded by SW Second Street and SW First Street and by SW First Avenue and SW Second Avenue. This city-owned property is now a leased parking lot.
Horizon asked the city for extensions of its agreement as it finalized financing and other details. After a lengthy debate at its February 2 meeting, the city commission granted an extension until early April.
Horizon CEO Nim Patel assured the commission he would meet the deadline.
University of Florida tourism expert Daniel Fesenmaier predicted a positive impact from the hotel and conference center. “I hope it will create much more energy and interest for the businesses located nearby,” he said.
“If the city helps create these kinds of investments, they will create a cultural environment that supports the use of the parks and small businesses,” said Fesenmaier, who is the director of the Eric Friedheim Tourism Institute in the Department of Tourism, Recreation and Sports Management.
STRIVING FOR DISTINCTION
The Hotel Indigo will be in keeping with Celebration Pointe’s vision of creating a community that is unique but clearly tied to the Gainesville community, said Ralph Conti, comanaging member of Celebration Pointe Development Partners.
Hotel Indigo will distinguish itself through decor selections tied to the area’s history, said Greg Friedman, a joint venture partner of its developer, Peachtree Hotel Group. The themes will include:
- The resurgence of alligators, which were in decline 20 years ago
- The Lubee Foundation’s efforts to provide a safe haven for bats on its 110-acre ranch founded by Luis F. Bacardi, the great-grandson of Fecuno Bacardi Masso of the Bacardi Rum dynasty
- The history of Paynes Prairie, which includes Alachua Lake, which existed for about 15 years after Paynes Prairie filled with water in 1871
“We’re creating an atmosphere for not only our guests but also for people coming to Celebration Pointe,” Friedman said. “We’ll have live entertainment and create a social atmosphere for people to meet up prior to going to a movie, relaxing after a long day of work or preparing for an important meeting the next day.”
EFFORTS TO EXPAND DEMAND
Alachua County’s Tourist Development Tax helps fund The Gainesville Sports Commission. The goal is to increase hotel guests during slow times of the year, Cacciatore said.
The sports commission has added four major new events this year, including the state cheer-leading championship. “The cheerleaders should bring 12,000 visitors,” Cacciatore said. “We’re really excited.”
Champions Park (formerly Nations Park) in Newberry, which was built with Tourist Development tax dollars, is attracting many hotel guests, Cacciatore said.
It is the only facility in the state with 16 fields especially designed for youth baseball or softball.
Events that the sports commission sponsors are expected to generate $4 million in hotel stays in 2017, up from the $3 million in 2016, Cacciatore said.
A proposal to create a 70,000-squarefoot event space at the planned new Alachua County Fairgrounds could boost sports tourism, she said. “We have to wait for UF to schedule its events at the O’Connell Center before we can go after events,” she said. “We could have more flexibility with a venue at the fairgrounds.”
Senior Writer CHRIS EVERSOLE has been a keen observer of business, government and culture in the Greater Gainesville Area while living here over the past two decades. His experience includes work with the University of Florida and Alachua County Government. He also has been a journalist and public relations professional in the Tampa Bay and Sarasota- Bradenton areas, as well as in Michigan, Ohio and New York.