|By G.G. Rigsby, Savannah Morning News,
Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 19, 2011--Just because Savannah has had record-breaking bed tax numbers recently doesn't mean hotels are doing well, six area hotel operators said Monday.
The tax numbers are higher because the number of hotel rooms in the Savannah area has grown, up 18 percent since 2007, said Mark Spadoni, general manager of the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa.
Spadoni said revenue per available room is down more than 16 percent from January through May of this year.
"We've not recovered, we're recovering," said Michael Owens, general manager of HLC Hotels.
Even though leisure tourism is up, not all sectors are recovering. "Corporate is non-existent," said Jack Bussert, manager of the River Street Inn.
The hotel operators, each with decades of experience, told the Savannah Morning News Monday that they would like to be heard in the ongoing discussion about a proposed convention center hotel on Hutchinson Island.
They also said discussions and votes on the issue should be scheduled well in advance and publicized so that stakeholders and the public can attend.
Spadoni said about a year ago, a charrette on operating philosophy for the proposed hotel was planned but never held.
The meeting would have addressed such things as room block agreements, prices, meeting space and incentives in airlift, he said.
The hotel operators said they are for economic development but can't comment on the viability of the hotel because it hasn't been defined -- in size or public participation.
"We need a project that the community can really get behind," said Mark Dana, senior vice president of Prince-Bush-Smith hotels.
A proposed $150 cap on rooms means the price could be lower, and that could have a "domino effect" and push down prices at other area hotels, said Kal Patel, president of Image Hotels.
"There's not an infinite number of groups out there" for a new hotel to attract, said Jody McIntyre, director of sales and marketing at the Savannah Marriott Riverfront.
Airlift limitations cost convention-goers money and time, she said.
A better idea may be to focus on nautical history and open a children's museum, helping area businesses recover before building another big hotel, McIntyre said.
Pat Monahan, assistant county administrator, said Monday he doesn't expect the county commission to take any action on the issue Friday.
Monahan said he's reviewing the memorandum of understanding between the trade center authority and Journeyman Austin, the preferred developer of the hotel. He said the earliest he thinks the commission would take up the issue is Aug. 12.
Monahan said the county may decide to commission its own, independent analysis of the proposed hotel.
The authority that manages the trade center voted Wednesday to extend the memorandum of understanding to Sept. 13, but left the size of the hotel in a range of 350 to 500 beds.
Supporters of the project have said expressions of financial interest won't last forever.
"We need to move quickly, but not so quickly that we make mistakes," Monahan said.
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Copyright (c) 2011, Savannah Morning News, Ga.
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