News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Jody Snider, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 5, 2003 - HAMPTON, Va.-- For those seeking a room with a view or a place to conduct a lavish wedding, the Chamberlin Hotel at Fort Monroe has earned a reputation as a beautiful place for glitzy events.
Daughters of generals have been married there. And a long list of distinguished locals have shelled out large sums of money just to make the right impression and to accommodate a large gathering of people for any number of events.
The hotel has also been known as a place for elegant Sunday brunches, as well as serving as a Christmas and Thanksgiving Day dining tradition for many area families.
But these days, if not for the handful of military police who rent rooms while staying on the post, the grand hotel would sit all but empty. Only six of the 145 staff members once employed at the hotel remain on the payroll. Their jobs are mostly to maintain the grounds but also to care for any overnight guests who might stay a night at the 180-room hotel.
The current owners, Old Point Comfort Hotel LLC, say that ever since Sept. 11, 2001, the Army has placed significant restrictions on access to the post causing dramatic decreases in the hotel's business. That's according to Gorham Rutter, chairman of Orlando, Fla.-based Pelican Properties, the parent company of Old Point Comfort Hotel.
Rutter said the Chamberlin's business had decreased 72.4 percent since Sept. 11, 2001. As a result, the hotel has turned into a money pit that Rutter's company wants to get rid of and, if necessary, "will walk away from it or file for bankruptcy," he said.
"This property can no longer be a hotel," Rutter said. "We can not continue to operate this facility and pay out $100,000 a month just to keep the lights on, the grounds up and a few workers employed.
"We've gone as far as we can go with putting money into this property. The Army will be the victor here because they can outlast us."
Rutter said that several proposals had been made for the Army to take back the property but that there had been no resolutions because no one was offering to help.
But Diana Bailey spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers, the Army's real estate arm said Pelican Properties had several options.
Bailey said the Army owned the land that the hotel sat on but not the hotel. The Corps of Engineers said the company took over the lease in September 2000, but the company said it started operating the hotel in June 1998.
Bailey said Old Point Comfort Hotel paid $6,000 a month to lease the land from the Corps of Engineers.
She said, "We still have a 40-year lease with the current owners that extends to Dec. 31, 2037. They can continue that lease and operate the property as a hotel or they can modify the lease for another use. They can also sell the rights for the hotel or they can terminate the lease and restore the property.
"The government has no interest in owning the hotel."
But Nathan A. Roesing, president of Pelican Properties in Pittsburgh, said the issue of operating a successful hotel business at the Chamberlin got back to access to the post.
He said, "We can't receive walk-in traffic for the hotel because no one will come up to a gate, with an armed solider, and wait for a day-pass in order to get on to the base.
"People aren't interested in standing in line for a day-pass when they don't have to do that at another hotel.
"Our employees, who have government passes, still have some problems getting on to the base."
Roesing said that for the past two years, his company had made several appeals to high Army officials, asking for help concerning access issues.
"We've requested that the hotel be sold and used as office space, and that's been turned down," he said.
"We've offered to sell it or lease it back to the Army, and that's been turned down.
"It can't be operated as a hotel. It just won't work with all the access issues."
Bailey said the Corps of Engineers was waiting to hear from Old Point Comfort Hotel on what the company's next step was.
"The ball's in their court," Bailey said.
"The government just has no use for a hotel."
The Chamberlin Hotel is registered as a national historic place and is a Virginia landmark.
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(c) 2003, Daily Press, Newport News, Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.