|By Allison Manning, The Columbus
Dispatch, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 18, 2011--A safari-themed hotel at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium not only would be a big attraction for visitors, but also could bring more than $20 million annually to the region.
Delaware County commissioners and zoo officials yesterday heard the results of an economic impact study from Randall Gross, president of Washington, D.C.-based Development Economics.
"It would be the first hotel in the U.S. located in a major zoo complex," Gross said. "So that makes it quite unique."
The study is another step in the evaluation process, as zoo officials decide the best way to add to the zoo experience for visitors, said Jerry Borin, a former director of the zoo who is now heading the project.
"This was one of the pieces of information that helps you make your vision and decide if you're even going to proceed," Borin said. "There's a committee of the zoo board that's doing further study, talking to area developers and hotel operators to see what the market is like."
Undecided is when construction would break ground or how the hotel would be financed. Zoo officials could seek bids from hotel chains, seek investors or pursue other options.
Construction, which could cost between $37 million and $46 million, would generate up to $101 million for northern Franklin and southern Delaware counties.
Beyond construction, the hotel would bring in nearly $9 million to the local economy, while the employees who work there would spend nearly $10 million each year.
Income, sales and bed taxes would bring in $920,000 and $315,000 for Franklin and Delaware counties, respectively.
Looking at the numbers, Borin said he was amazed at the impact the zoo can have on the community.
"It's not numbers you usually work with," he said. "It just makes you feel good and proud."
Delaware County used federal funds to pay for the $18,000 economic impact study, a follow-up to a $15,000 feasibility study it commissioned from Hotel & Leisure Advisors of Cleveland in 2009. The earlier study suggested the 175-room hotel complex would include 25 yurts -- circular bungalows for up to six guests.
The complex also could include themed restaurants, entertainment and other amenities. Guests could get special privileges, such as nighttime zoo tours.
"If you create something very unique, it can become a destination in itself," Gross said.
Though the zoo property is actually in southern Delaware County, most of the money generated by zoo business goes to Franklin County. Most zoo employees live and spend their money in Franklin County, and many of the businesses that zoo patrons frequent are in the county, as well.
Funding these studies allows the county to stay on the zoo's radar and be involved in the project, said Gus Comstock, Delaware County economic development director.
"Delaware County hasn't totally grasped the importance that the zoo and the new hotel can add to our economy," Comstock said. "We haven't taken full advantage of that."
Board president Dennis Stapleton acknowledged that the county has been slow to capitalize on the zoo's business. But this development offers an opportunity for the county to catch up.
"I think the ... uniqueness of the hotel that is proposed is probably as exciting as anything that's come along for a while," he said.
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Copyright (c) 2011, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
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