|By Luz Lazo, Richmond Times-Dispatch,
Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
November 4, 2009 - --The Tri-Cities area's hospitality industry is receiving significant support in their campaign against an Army plan to build a 1,000-room hotel at Fort Lee.
On Monday, the National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association sent a joint letter to key members of the House Armed Services Committee and its Military Personnel Subcommittee asking them to reject the proposed $114 million project.
"A hotel of this magnitude will usurp business from local lodging and restaurant businesses which have spent years investing in the local community and reinvesting in their businesses," said the letter co-signed by Marlene Colucci, AH&LA's executive vice president for public policy, and Beth Johnson, the restaurant association's executive vice president for public affairs.
Linas Kojelis, coordinator of the Greater Tri-Cities Hospitality Coalition, which represents about 160 local businesses in the area and has been a critic of the Fort Lee plan, welcomed the support from the national organizations.
The letter is addressed to Reps. Susan A. Davis, D-Calif., and Joe Wilson, R-S.C., chairwoman and ranking member, respectively, of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, which is set to approve the project.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association, which has been around for nearly a century, represents individual hotel property members, hotel companies, student and faculty members, and industry suppliers. The National Restaurant Association, founded in 1919, represents more than 380,000 member restaurant establishments in the country and works as advocates for the industry.
The Fort Lee plan has been a divisive issue between the base and the community since the summer. Area hotel leaders say the lodging facility, which if built would be the largest in the state, would take the business they hoped to get from the installation.
The construction of the 15-story, 1,000-room hotel is necessary for the base to meet growing demand for temporary housing on post, in part because of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission process, Fort Lee officials say.
William Bradner, a deputy public-affairs officer for the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command, which would manage the hotel, said the Army is committed to proceeding with the project. The command, Bradner said, is awaiting a Department of Defense staff review to add the project to the fiscal 2010 non-appropriated funds major construction program. No taxpayer money would be used to build the hotel.
Fort Lee spokesman Matthew Montgomery said the hotel would bring economic benefits to the region and that soldiers still would use area hotels and restaurants. The installation, he said, continues to encourage its soldiers to get involved in the local communities and take advantage of the restaurants, shopping centers and events outside Fort Lee.
The letter points out concerns about small, privately owned hotels not being able to compete with the large government-owned and government-built business.
"A new 1,000-room complex represents a 25 percent increase in accommodations in the immediate area of the base," the letter states. "This hotel will immediately become, by far, the largest property in this region and as such will drive down demand in the entire lodging market for years to come and immediately capture much of the market share." ------
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