|By Mike Pramik, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Dec. 2, 2004 - A southeastern Ohio developer plans to build an 86-room AmeriHost Inn & Suites near Port Columbus, the only new hotel announced in central Ohio this year.
The hotel is the first building planned for Plaza Properties' 35-acre Airpointe Centre development at Cassady Avenue and I-670.
SJB Development Inc. of Athens is in talks with Plaza to purchase 2 of the 35 acres. Site work has begun for the hotel, which is planned to open in the third quarter of 2005 pending the land sale.
SJB owner Jack Bortle said the hotel will be a new prototype for AmeriHost, one aimed at the corporate traveler that is more ``upscale'' than other AmeriHost Inns. Bortle's companies have developed nearly two dozen hotels and have ownership interest in six, including the AmeriHost Inn & Suites at Rickenbacker Airport.
"We started the brand 15 years ago ... in Athens, and now there are 110 properties nationwide,'' Bortle said. "This is sort of the next logical step -- working into larger markets.'' Steve Campbell, Plaza Properties' chief financial officer, confirmed that work has begun to widen Cassady Avenue and build an access road for the hotel. He said a plan hasn't completely come together for the Airpointe development.
"This helps kick us off,'' he said.
The land is the former site of the Walter J. Engel Co., a flower distributor that moved to Rickenbacker Air Industrial Park in 2002.
After a few years of active development, the local hotel market has been quiet this year. The only other property under development is the Hilton Garden Inn at Polaris, which is expected to open in the first quarter of 2005.
Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Robert LaFleur said hotel construction has been declining for six years throughout the nation and that demand for rooms finally has caught up with supply.
That trend is being felt locally, said Eric Belfrage of Columbus-based Integra Realty Resources. But Belfrage said the number of available rooms in the eastern part of central Ohio, which includes Port Columbus, grew from 1,241 in 1998 to more than 2,700 at the end of 2003. During that time demand nearly doubled but still was not enough to fill the new supply.
Several hotels were built from 2000 to 2002 near the airport, ranging from Stybridge Suites and Homewood Suites on Airport Drive to the Hilton Columbus at Easton. This year, the Radisson Airport, 1375 N. Cassady Ave., was reflagged as the Columbus Marriott Airport.
Still, there was no new construction in '04, leading to improved occupancy rates.
Year-to-date occupancy for the hotels around the airport stood at 65.4 percent through October, according to statistics compiled by Experience Columbus. Last year, the occupancy rate was 63.7 percent, Belfrage said.
"They're going to want to build hotels at Polaris, Easton, Dublin and Downtown where there are dynamics and hope,'' Belfrage said. "The big challenge in that area has been support services.'' Bortle said he's confident the Airpointe development eventually will contain restaurants and other retail operations.
With a central entrance corridor, the new AmeriHost Inn will be laid out differently from others in the limited-service line.
Bortle said the hotel will include upscale furnishings, an exercise room, meeting space, business center, sundry shop, indoor pool, guest laundry and high-speed, wireless Internet access in the rooms.
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