|By Gavin Jackson, Florence Morning News,
S.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 24, 2013--FLORENCE, S.C. -- The potential expansion of the Florence Civic Center is set to give Florence's booming hospitality industry another shot of growth.
The Florence-based High-Rise Hotels group has started site work for a Home2 Suites by Hilton near the Florence Civic Center. Company officials say the five-story, 60,250 square-foot Home2 Suites by Hilton is a suite-only hotel that will sit on Woody Jones Boulevard and feature functional, one-bedroom kitchenette rooms that cater to a variety of clients, especially extended stays.
And, later this spring, Raines Development Group will break ground on a recently acquired, 10-acre site that will extend Hospitality Drive and RDG's string of properties beside the Civic Center.
Gray Raines said, "All the growth in Florence and also the civic center has played a major role in our expansions." He declined to name the property flag.
"We're still working on the legalities of closing the franchise so can't announce the name yet, but it will be a great complement to the Raines portfolio," said Raines.
Raines, who is also chairman of the civic center board, said groundbreaking will take place in May, and the hotel will be open in the first quarter of 2014.
The two hotels will add about 200 rooms to Florence's market inventory.
Florence has 5,000 hotel rooms, of which 4,100 are suitable for convention attendees, said Holly Beaumier, director of the Florence Convention and Visitors Bureau. The 200 new rooms, plus renovations at other properties, signal another boom, she said.
"Being able to continue to build hotels in Florence is a true indication of the stability of the tourism industry in our city, and the magnetism of the civic center to draw conventions," Beaumier said.
Beaumier said 13 hotels in Florence have undergone recent minor and major renovations in the past two years, with room renovations planned for the Hampton Inn and Suites and a lobby renovation for the Hilton Garden Inn. Both belong to a third local hotelier, Raldex Properties. Those properties are also located near the civic center.
Beaumier suggested the recent performance, along with an increased willingness of banks to lend for new hotel work, is fueling the surge.
"The revenue per available room increased 8.64 percent in FY 2011-12 from the previous year," Beaumier said. "This shows the increase in profitability for Florence hotels. The number of rooms sold has increased by 5.15 percent, showing an increase in market demand."
That demand has led to a countywide hospitality tax increase of 14 percent from 2011 to 2012, reaching the $1 million mark in 2012, which pushed Florence above a legislative-mandated threshold that allows it to ignore blue laws and use hospital taxes for some indirect expenses, such as additional law enforcement. Just about half the tax -- $546,000 -- was collected in the city limits.
The , $9 million Home2 property that will be managed by High-Rise is Hilton's newest brand. It's only four years old with 14 operating hotels nationwide. Florence will the second location in the state. Hilton says the hotel provides a unique experience compared to other properties, one that seeks to be "hip and humble" and not just "another beige box."
Anand Patel, High-Rise Hotels president and COO, said the modern suites will be a strong addition to the company's nine hotels, four of which are located in Florence. This is company's first hotel since the Comfort Suites was built in 2007.
"It's our hometown, it's in our backyard, so we know the market. We know the area. We know what it can support, so that is the reason why we chose here in Florence," Patel said. "It's an all-suite brand and it caters to extended stay. Not that many hotels have that concept here in Florence. And our other hotels, they also cater to different clientele as well, so we won't be competing against ourselves."
But they are competing and RDG and Raldex.
Patel said it is not about competition. He said High-Rise is close with Raldex, which gave its blessing on the another company bringing a new Hilton flag into the Florence Civic Center area. What it's about is adding capacity to the Florence market.
"We're trying to add more capacity to the market, so hopefully the civic center can bring bigger events," Patel said. "Some events have to go to other places because there are not enough hotel rooms to support it. Yes, Florence has a good amount of rooms, but some of our rooms are older or some are exterior openings, and the groups that come need more interior hotels."
The 20-year-old Florence Civic Center is currently looking at the possibility of renovating and/or expanding. Center officials have commissioned a study, which has already been presented to the Civic Center Commission, that proposes adding a large exhibition hall to the complex.
A January economic impact study on it, conducted by Chicago-based C.H. Johnson Consulting Inc., stated, "Hotels at the civic center are very busy. They have very little meeting space themselves and would use space at the center for events they book. ... It is expected that if the civic center renovates and expands, an on-site hotel will be desirable and several new hotels would seek to be built in this area, in part due to the civic center."
Besides the new work near the Florence Civic Center, the Raines Group is part of a group that is currently wrapping up work on the much-anticipated, $7.2 million, 55-room Hotel Florence and is developing plans for an $8 million, 57-room boutique hotel in Lake City.
(c)2013 the Florence Morning News (Florence, S.C.)
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