|By Shelby Sebens, Star-News, Wilmington,
N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 31, 2012--The Wilmington City Council will soon consider an agreement with a development company who wants to build an Embassy Suites next to the convention center.
"We didn't get everything we asked for but we got the most important elements," Mayor Bill Saffo said during a press conference Tuesday to announce the plans moving forward.
The hotel would be 194 rooms instead of 200 as the council has asked for. But other amenities such as a full-service restaurant are being proposed.
The hotel was proposed to be a Sheraton but has changed plans. Officials say the Embassy Suites is just as good. Council will consider entering into an agreement with the developer during the regular meeting Tuesday.
Harmony Hospitality of Virginia Beach, Va., and the city have been negotiating for months over this agreement that will lay out a timeline for everything that needs to be done before the property changes hands.
This is the fourth time since 2007 the city has tried to get a hotel developer on board. The past three companies have proposed hotels -- an Embassy Suites, a Hotel Indigo and a Marriott -- but financing and other complications caused them to back out.
City Manager Sterling Cheatham said this time the process is changed and the city made it clearer what the developer must accomplish before the city will sell the land. The city hired Strategic Advisory Group to negotiate terms with Harmony Hospitality and come back with a final development agreement.
"Literally, you've got to get ready for construction before the property transaction occurs," Cheatham said. "I think it protects everybody."
Brooks Johnson, Harmony Hospitality's director of development, said officials with the development company are expected to be in town next week.
"I think we're pretty much there," he said, adding the Embassy Suites works better than what was originally proposed. "We're very excited about it. We think Wilmington is a great place."
Cheatham said the hotel will still have about 200 rooms, a full-service hotel and all the other amenities council wanted for the convention center, which is being paid for with room-occupancy taxes.
The company, however, told the city it would be putting up less than a $1 million surety, which has been a requirement in the past. Cheatham said the terms of the MOU are more important for ensuring the project gets built.
"I'm feeling pretty good about this," he said. The whole economy is re-emerging. It's slow but it's steady."
Cheatham added development -- referencing the ongoing construction of the Marriott hotel on Grace and Second streets and development along the river -- is starting to move downtown after years of a stagnant economy.
"Things are finally solidifying after three years of turmoil," he said. "And it's about time, too."
Riverfront Holdings II LLC is also proposing a Hotel Indigo at 1 Hanover St. The hotel plans will go before the city's Technical Review Committee on Thursday. The 1.33 acres is next to the convention center and was home to a dilapidated warehouse that the city spent thousands tearing down. The developer has since paid the city back.
When asked if the two hotels being in such close proximity would be an issue for demand at the convention center hotel, Saffo said there's a need for additional hotel rooms downtown.
"Competition is good for the soul," the mayor said.
Shelby Sebens: 343-2076
On Twitter: @ShelbySebens
(c)2012 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)
Visit the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.) at www.starnewsonline.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services