|By Don Nelson, Athens Banner-Herald,
Ga.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jul. 15, 2009--The new 99-room Springhill Suites by Marriott on Daniells Bridge Road will open early next week, giving Oconee County its first hotel.
"I would say that it's a historic event for Oconee County being the first hotel and the quality of that facility," Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis said.
The hotel is owned by Motel Enterprises, the Athens-based company that also has the Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Athens.
The Springhill Suites will generate tax revenue for the county through a 7 percent room tax county commissioners approved in 2007, in anticipation that a hotel would open. If the new hotel maintains a 50 percent occupancy rate, it could generate about $150,000 a year in hotel-motel taxes.
The Springhill Suites also might draw other investment to the area, Davis said, comparing it to the nearby University System Board of Regents' Office of Information and Instructional Technology, which opened on Daniells Bridge Road five years ago.
"Five years ago, they opened up the OIIT, and I see what has transpired in that area with all the Class A office space nearby," Davis said. "I think the hotel will be a catalyst for additional businesses that will come to that area -- additional restaurants and retail stores around it."
The OIIT facility ought to provide Springhill Suites with a lot of business, said Scott Norris, vice president of sales with Motel Enterprises.
Information technology professionals from University System schools throughout the state train at the center -- often for a week or two.
"I think that you'll see at this hotel we may have people in for seven or 14 days at a time," Norris said.
Promoting Oconee County as a tourist destination will be easier with upscale lodging, said Oconee County tourism director Peggy Holcomb.
Holcomb could pitch the county as the richest in Georgia with a great school system, but then she also had to tell potential visitors that they couldn't buy a mixed drink or stay in a hotel, she said.
"It's been hard," Holcomb said.
Besides making her sales talk easier, the hotel/motel tax will help pay to promote tourism for the county, Holcomb said.
The new facility, which is a nonsmoking property like all Marriott hotels, has rooms 25 percent larger than the industry average, Norris said. Rooms will have flat-screen TVs, mini-refrigerators, microwaves, high-speed Internet and coffee service. Guests will have access to an outdoor swimming pool, an exercise room, guest laundry facilities and three meeting rooms, as well as St. Mary's Wellness Center.
Room rates begin at $109 to $119 per night.
Eighteen employees will work at the Springhill Suites.
Motel Enterprises owns property adjacent to Springhill Suites, where future plans call for another hotel and possibly a conference center, said Mike Waldrip, vice president for facilities for Motel Enterprises.
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