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Sanford, North Carolina Welcomes Dipak Patel's New Comfort Suites Hotel

By Gordon Anderson, Sanford Herald, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 24, 2009--SANFORD -- Hotel rooms in Sanford are relatively easy to come by on most weekends. But visit town on a Monday or a Wednesday, and you might not be so lucky.

Area hotel managers say that's because a large portion of their business comes from corporate travel.

With Sanford being home to businesses like 3M, Caterpillar, Static Control, and Wyeth -- all of whom have country-wide or even world-wide reach -- it's not surprising that most of the people traveling here are doing so for business purposes.

"It is very much business travel," said Dipak Patel, who owns the Days Inn in Sanford and the city's new Comfort Suites, which hosted its ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

During his hotel's big day, Patel said he chose to go with the Comfort Suites brand for his latest franchise specifically because it is geared toward corporate clients, with suite-style rooms and other business amenities.

He said at least 80 percent of the people who come to Sanford and stay in hotels do so for business, and already, the guest list at Comfort Suites is reflecting that.

Diana Finney, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express on Horner Boulevard, estimated her corporate clientele even higher.

"I'd say at least 85 to 90 percent of our business is corporate-based," said Finney, basing this on her nine years working at the hotel.

Unlike its neighbors to the north and south, Lee County doesn't boast a booming tourism-driven economy. People travel to Wake County for its sports, its proximity to three major universities and for other amenities smaller counties like Lee lack.

Moore County, meanwhile, thrives off tourism, thanks in huge part to the golf packages and resorts offered in Pinehurst and Southern Pines.

On average, $956,164 is pumped into the Moore County economy via travel and tourism every day. The county ranks third in total travel revenues generated per capita, meaning that local government and its citizens rely heavily on travel revenues.

Earlier this year, Sanford City Councilman Mike Stone and Lee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Richard Hayes had toyed with the idea of increasing the county's hotel/motel tax rate from 4 percent to 8 percent.

The thought was to use the excess revenue generated by the increase to fund a tourism authority for Sanford and Lee County.

The tax currently funds the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center on the campus of Central Carolina Community College.

Finney said that such an increase wouldn't be prudent for the area because of the low level of recreational travel.

"I don't see how our clients paying a higher tax would benefit the community. It would just hurt the businesses who bring people into town," she said.

Stone said the option is off the table for now, because rules passed by the General Assembly since the arrangement with the Civic Center would mean any change in the tax would also cause a change in the way funds are distributed.

"If we change the hotel/motel tax structure, we have new rules to follow," he said, explaining that the new rules stipulate that only 33 percent of any hotel/motel tax can go toward any one building.

"It would end up to where we'd be generating even less money for the civic center."


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