|By Linda N. Weller, The Telegraph, Alton,
Ill.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 25, 2009 - --ALTON -- In what would be a major project along Homer Adams Parkway, a hotel chain owner wants to demolish part of a closed motel, renovate what remains and build an addition.
Then, if all goes to plan, a second hotel would be built at the rear of the property, which is the former Days Inn at 1900 Homer Adams Parkway.
Champion Hotels, the new owner of the 4.98-acre property, also wants to attract a free-standing, quality chain restaurant to be located on the east portion of the site, adjacent to the Robert P. Wadlow Municipal Golf Course. A concept drawing shows a 5,000-square-foot restaurant building.
In total, the motel portions of the project could cost $10.5 million to $11.5 million.
Champion, based in Oklahoma City, Okla., is negotiating with Best Western hotels to bring the renovated Days Inn into that chain, and with Hampton Inns for the new structure that will go up behind it, toward Kohl's department store.
Regardless of the chain affiliation, Champion will own and operate the motels.
"We will demolish all of the 'public' areas and one-and-a-half wings" containing motel rooms at the rear of the old Days Inn building, said regional manager Kevin D. Wiggs, of Champion's office in Salem, Ill.
"There will be a new canopy on the front, a new two-story building, outdoor pool with nearby fitness room and a vending area," he said. "It's a big project; it's going to be good for the city and for the area. Adding some high-quality hotel rooms to Alton, along with what we already have, will be a big help" to the city.
"It's a great location," Wiggs said.
Champion Hotels owns 87 motels, including the Comfort Inn and Super 8 motels in Alton.
The company bought the property at an auction Aug. 20.
The previous owner, Alton Hospitality Group LLC, had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June 2006.
The city of Alton subsequently turned off the water and closed down the motel Oct. 2, 2008, because it owed several months' worth of tourism taxes and $1,204 in sewer fees. The former owner also was behind on its water bill, and had citations for building code violations that needed remedying before it could reopen -- which it never did. The older portion of the structure, which is slated to come down, is 36 years old.
In separate operations over the years, various restaurants have opened inside the Days Inn but closed soon thereafter.
City officials are glad to see someone investing in the prime property on the north side of busy Homer Adams Parkway, which has frontage of 523.8 feet.
"I'm glad to see it happen; it will fill a need," Alton Mayor Tom Hoechst said. "It's hard to find a motel room in Alton on the weekends. It will provide more jobs and put the property back on the tax rolls."
Phil Roggio, Alton director of development and housing, concurred.
"We're just very pleased something productive is going to be done with the property," he said.
Key to the two-phase development, though, is expanding the River Bend Enterprise Zone to the property, so as to allow several incentives for the project. Wood River is in the process of getting the zone expanded in the Illinois Route 143/Illinois 255 Extension to assist a development there that also includes a motel.
"We really need the city and county's help as a designated enterprise zone," Wiggs said.
Incentives that Champion Hotels wants are an exemption from paying sales taxes on building materials used in renovating the property and property tax abatement for four years.
"The developer is seeking assistance, but the only tool we have is the enterprise zone," Roggio said.
He said he sent a letter to Madison County about wanting to expand the zone to include the motel property. It would not be part of the Alton Square special business district.
Besides the county, towns within the district have to sign off on any enterprise zone expansion: Wood River, Alton, East Alton, Bethalto, Hartford, Roxana, South Roxana and Madison.
Wiggs said asbestos removal should start in November, and plans are for the possible Best Western motel to be completed in late spring 2010.
The 28-year-old western wing will remain and be completely renovated, and the new construction will adjoin that area to the east. The entire Best Western will have an exterior insulation and finish system (EIFS).
There will be interior access to the motel rooms, and the motel will offer hot breakfasts to its guests. Both motels will have microwave ovens and refrigerators in each room.
Among the public areas to be demolished in the Days Inn building are the restaurant, pool, lobby and banquet room. When completed, there will be 67 rooms in the Best Western, down from about 140 rooms in the old Days Inn building. It will employ 20 people. That first phase has an estimated cost of $2.5 million.
The planned Hampton Inn is Phase 2, and will have four stories and 79 rooms and employ 25 to 30 people. The schedule is for construction on that motel to start sometime next year.
"It's going to be nice when we get done," Wiggs said. "It will be fully renovated, and it will look new inside and out."
Wiggs said Best Western motels are considered "mid-scale" level, and Hampton Inns are "upper, mid-scale."
The planned, $8 million to $9 million Hampton Inn project is Phase 2, and it will have four stories and 79 rooms.
"The Hampton Inn will have everything -- a pool, fitness center and hot breakfasts," Wiggs said.
The concept drawing provides 251 parking spaces for the entire site.
Because Champion owns the Alton Comfort Inn, its general manager, Jack Leonard, is familiar with the area and its hospitality market, and he will help manage the project, Wiggs said.
"(Alton) Comfort Inn and Super 8 have very good reputations; we intend to run this the same way," Wiggs said.
He also said the addition of two motels won't over-saturate the area with lodging.
"I think Alton can support these hotels," Wiggs said. "Super 8 and Comfort Inn run good occupancy rates. A lot of industries bring in room nights, Alton tourism generates room nights, and a lot of events in the city generate room nights. I think we will see the hospitality market improve in Alton."
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