|By Rebecca Logan, The Fayetteville
Observer, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
May 11, 2010--SPRING LAKE -- The Spring Lake Board of Aldermen granted preliminary site approval Monday for a 100-room, four-story Courtyard by Marriott proposed for the corner of North Fifth Street and Parker Street.
The hotel is an example of developers finding the town ripe for growth, in large part because it hugs the edge of an Army post in transition. It is expected to create 30 to 35 jobs when it opens.
"This is a sign of the times and the future for Spring Lake," said John Meroski, president of the Fayetteville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. "That community has a great opportunity to position itself in the market as the gateway to Fort Bragg."
Officials at Marriott International Inc.'s Maryland headquarters referred calls about the Spring Lake property to Trinity Development & Management Inc. Vivek Tandon -- already a key figure in the Spring Lake hotel market -- is listed in state business records as president of Trinity.
Tandon said Monday that he is still piecing the Courtyard project together and didn't have many details to share other than that he is still trying to shore up financing.
Tandon said he would like to break ground in July and open the Courtyard by Marriott in the summer of 2011. But he stressed that timetable is contingent on the financing.
"He (Tandon) believes in this market," said Spring Lake Mayor Ethel Clark. "He's been trying to get another hotel here for some time."
Clark said the location selected for the hotel "fits right in with the growth that's going on out along (N.C.) 210."
The addition of a Courtyard hotel would represent a further expansion of Marriott's footprint in Cumberland County. Marriott's most recent addition in Fayetteville -- TownePlace Suites near the Sam's Club off Skibo Road- is next to the Residence Inn by Marriott, just up Skibo Road from The Fairfield Inn by Marriott, and not far from the Courtyard by Marriott.
Marriott categorizes its Courtyard concept as part of its "upper moderate tier," which includes SpringHill Suites by Marriott. There's one of those in Pinehurst.
This would be the first Marriott concept for Spring Lake, which already has a Gateway Inn and Suites, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Sleep Inn & Suites and Super 8.
Tandon developed Spring Lake's Hampton Inn and is also at the helm of Spring Lake's Holiday Inn Express.
BRAC effect Billy Wellons is a partner at Spring Lake's Gateway Inn and Sleep Inn. The latter opened in 1984 -- bringing Spring Lake its first elevator, he said.
"In the next 10 years, you will not know Spring Lake as you know it today," Wellons said. "Spring Lake is on the verge of being a really important little community."
Wellons said if the impact of base realignment ends up being as big as promised, "you'll have a lot more ... people coming and going and needing a place to stay for a few days. And that's why we're getting some of this big hotel influx."
That's not to say he doesn't have concerns about the additional competition.
"Our occupancy rates have really dropped off over the last 12 months," Wellons said. Military training demands -- particularly among reservists -- appear to have fallen off a bit, he said.
"We had been running at a very high rate of occupancy," Wellons said. "Normally what happens in that kind of market is that your major hotel players look at those numbers and say, 'Wow ... they're doing good. We need to be there.' " Meroski said it is possible for the addition of rooms to get ahead of an increase in demand.
"Billy's right," Meroski said. Although not to the extent of other markets in the state, there has been a dip in occupancy, which means the impact of additional rooms is felt at least in the short-term, he said.
But he added that hotel developers are looking longer-term, factoring in economic improvement and the impact of base realignment.
"Does that mean we need a whole bunch more hotels?" Meroski said. "No. What it really means is that our community as a whole needs to look at itself and determine what type of product we truly need."
If that doesn't happen, there is the risk of a situation like one that played out in the early 1990s when Exit 49 off Interstate 95 went from about 100 rooms to about 2,000, Meroski said.
Occupancy rates consequently dropped from about 60 percent to 40 percent, he said.
"So it's a delicate situation -- trying to maintain occupancy while growing at the same time," Meroski said.
Staff writer Drew Brooks contributed to this report.
Staff writer Rebecca Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3582.
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