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Petersburg, Virginia Enters Economic Development Partnership with
Virginia State University for Possible $50 Million Hotel and
Conference Center Development

By F.M. Wiggins, The Progress-Index, Petersburg, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jan. 13, 2012--PETERSBURG -- A $50 million hotel and conference center could be coming to downtown Petersburg soon if all goes according to plan.

Petersburg Mayor Brian Moore and Virginia State University President Dr. Keith Miller announced on Thursday that the city and local university have formed an economic development partnership to explore the feasibility of a hotel-convention center in the city of Petersburg.

"A hotel-convention center is key to Petersburg's plan for the complete revitalization of the downtown, Old Towne and Harbor areas. Petersburg will become a destination location and the time is now to make these projects happen," Moore said in a press release.

Moore told The Progress-Index a day before the official announcement that the goal is to have a 200-room hotel with a 350-car parking deck and ancillary space around the building.

Moore said that the city has been working closely with the university's leadership over the past six months to make the announcement a reality.

"Virginia State University is committed to contributing to the growth of Petersburg and the region through partnerships," Miller said in the press release announcing the partnership. "We believe a hotel-convention center in Petersburg would provide another venue from which VSU can partner with the City of Petersburg."

Moore said that the next step will be placing an option on the land for six months, which will allow the feasibility study to be conducted. But Moore said he is confident that the numbers will come back in favor of building the hotel.

"With all the shops, the apartments in downtown, we're really building this critical mass of development," Moore said. "This is everyone's downtown and we want this to be the hometown hotel for Virginia State University events."

The City of Petersburg plans to exercise a six-month option on five parcels of land in the Bollingbrook, Bank Street area formerly occupied by Rountree Pontiac. A consulting firm will be hired to study the feasibility of the location, the economic impact and the implementation of a public-private partnership.

The hotel-convention center project is expected to represent an investment of more than $50 million dollars.

Danielle Fitz-Hugh, president and chief executive officer of the Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, said that she thinks the idea of a downtown hotel and conference center is a great idea. "Visitors could then stay, eat and shop all in the downtown area," Fitz-Hugh said.

She added that she recently met with City Manager William E. Johnson, but Thursday was the first she had heard of the hotel and conference center proposal. "Right now we don't have a major hotel in downtown Petersburg, and that's something that we need," she said.

Fitz-Hugh added that the city needs to find ways to draw visitors to the downtown core and keep them there. She said currently visitors to the city either stay in Colonial Heights or go further down the interstate to the Country Inn and Suites on Wagner Road.

Miller said that the proposal is an indicator of the great relationship between the city and Virginia State University.

"We're willing and ready to help out in any way that we can," Miller said.

Moore said that part of the idea will be to locate the university's hospitality school with the hotel, "similar to the relationship between Virginia Tech and the Hotel Roanoke."

For now though the request for proposals is out and the next step is primarily a waiting game over the next few months.

If all goes well though, Moore said he anticipates that the hotel could open sometime in 2014.

Moore also said that the hotel would be beneficial in pushing the city's strategy of developing the area around Exit 52 from Interstate 95. Additionally the hotel would be within visual site of the city's harbor area.

Another aspect that will be examined as part of the feasibility study is the potential revenue from the hotel and conference center.

Potential funding for the project could come through a public-private partnership.

"We want to make sure that we do the best for taxpayers and for Virginia State University," Moore said.

City spokeswoman Joanne Williams said that the idea of locating a hotel in the downtown core is not new, and in fact, the concept has been around for decades.

"This council is now moving forward with that idea," she added.

Moore said that the concept of a downtown hotel and conference center has also been included in numerous privately developed and financed plans for the downtown area including the Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team plan. Moore said that until now the opportunity didn't exist to consider the concept.

"Now that this land is available, it behooves us to move forward with this," Moore said.

- F.M. Wiggins may be reached at 804-732-3456, ext. 3254 or fwiggins@progress-index.com.

___

(c)2012 The Progress-Index (Petersburg, Va.)

Visit The Progress-Index (Petersburg, Va.) at www.progress-index.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



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