Uptown will finally be home to a convention hotel after Columbus Council on Tuesday approved an agreement between the city, the Development Authority of Columbus, Georgia and the owners of the Marriott hotel on Front Avenue.
According to the agreement, the hotel owners will add 88 new rooms and construct an over-the-road Skybridge connecting the Marriott to the Columbus Convention and Trade Center across the street.
The city and development authority have been working to attract a convention hotel since the trade center was renovated in 2004.
The expansion will be a “game changer” and help Columbus compete with cities around the state and nation for conventions, according to City Manager Isaiah Hugley.
“About three weeks ago, I was out of town and an organization interested in bringing a conference to Columbus approached me and advised me that they tried to bring a three-day conference to Columbus last year, but Columbus was not competitive in cost of conference space and could not meet the request of 150 hotel rooms at one location,” he said.
Hugley said the Marriott expansion project will keep situations like that from continuing to happen.
The agreement provides over $3.9 million in incentives from the city and the Development Authority to the owner of the Marriott, Family Holdings Sub LLC (one of the companies under the umbrella of Pezold Company).
The company is expected to invest $15 million in the project.
The expansion, which will be constructed on land next to the hotel currently used as a parking lot, will bring the number of rooms to the Marriott to at least 267, according to the agreement. The covered Skybridge, once completed, will be owned and maintained by the city.
The agreement also states that the owner will renovate the existing 177 guestrooms and common areas to bring them to the same level as the newly constructed addition.
“This is a no-brainer. This is huge with a capital ‘H’ for Columbus,” said District 1 Councilor Pops Barnes. “For anyone who has had to go to conferences anywhere else, you know that we are losing a lot of money.”
Hayley Tillery, executive director of the convention and trade center, said Tuesday that the project will truly make a difference as the center is “constantly” having to turn down business.
“Clients come and fall in love with our town, they fall in love with the venue because of the uniqueness, the history behind it, how convenient everything is within walking distance, but there is not enough beds for heads,” Tillery said. “I’m so tired of having that reason because I know its something that we can fix.”
Under the terms of the agreement, the development authority will give the land where the expansion will be constructed at no cost to the owner once the expansion is complete. The city will also provide cash incentives: $1.3 million from the Economic Development Fund and $1 million from the Friends of Columbus Trust Fund.
The city will also lease up to 125 spaces of the River Center Parking Deck to the hotel at market rate to be used by hotel guests.
The development authority will issue revenue bonds and the city will provide an estimated $1.6 million in property tax abatements: Real property will be taxed at 50% for 10 years, and personal property will be taxed at 50% for five years.
“Once we provide some of these financial incentives...I think we will experience a good return on our dollar when all of this is up and running,” said District 9 Councilor At-large Judy Thomas. “I’m anxious for it to get up and running, we’ve only been doing this for what, 20 years?”
Other terms of the agreement are that the owner will maintain its brand as a full-service Marriott for at least 20 years and that the owner will enter into a “Room Block Agreement,” which will allow the trade center to block rooms for the convention at both the Marriott and a second proposed Pezold-owned hotel at 1201 Broadway, which is currently under construction.
“The Room Block Agreement will be in effect when there is a group that needs 250-plus rooms,” Hugley said Tuesday.
Room rates will be $125 a night for the first 24 months.
Completion of the Marriott expansion project is estimated to take two years.
“I just want to say thank you to this council for making the decision that you made today,” Mayor Skip Henderson said. “When that true conference hotel gets completed and connected by a Skybridge, that is going to change the facade, it’s going to change the impression, it’s going to change the attitude of people when they look at this community.”
The new rooms will join those planned in three other hotels currently in the construction and planning phases in uptown.
A 106-room Marriott property by Columbus-based RAM Hotels is under construction in the 1200 block of Broadway in a former Raymond Rowe building, while Pezold companies are constructing an 88-room Hampton Inn hotel at the corner of 12th Street and Broadway. A third hotel, being planned by W.C. Bradley between the 14th Street pedestrian bridge and The Rapids apartment complex, will likely bring another 100 or more rooms to the uptown area.
Peter Bowden, Visit Columbus GA president and chief executive officer, said the agreement is a great example of a public-private partnership.
“Your vote today allows us to get back in (the) game, it allows us to compete with cities like August, Macon, Athens and so forth,” Bowden said. “It allows us to reach way beyond just the state of Georgia in bringing larger conventions, it allows us to push that number to 500, to 1,000-plus attendees that will create a significant economic impact for the city.”
Councilors Glenn Davis and Bruce Huff recused themselves from the vote due to conflicts.