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    Hotel Groups Interested in Downtown Montgomery

    Summer 2015
    By David Zaslawsky

    It was not long ago – about 15 years or so – downtown Montgomery was filled with dilapidated buildings, flashing traffic lights and very, very few people – no sounds and no smells.

    That’s why Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said that the downtown and riverfront redevelopment “is almost like going from 0 to 50, rather than going from 50 to 100.” He said that “it’s not a ghost town like it used to be.”

    Downtown has evolved from that ghost town to what the mayor said is “a mystique about what it is that’s going on in Montgomery. Montgomery is a known commodity now. It used to not be a known commodity.”

    He can find agreement in his assessment from four hotel groups that are seriously looking at downtown Montgomery. Strange said that those four hotels represent 400 to 450 rooms and Montgomery is “highly likely” to pick up two new downtown hotels, which would add 150 to 200 rooms.

    “We’re just beginning. This is the tip of the iceberg. We’re in an ideal place. We want to encourage not just the ones (hotels) that are coming, but encourage more. We’ve got a lot of room for hotels,” Montgomery County Commission Chairman Elton N. Dean Sr. said.

    It’s a big deal. Those additional rooms will enable the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce Convention & Visitor Bureau to compete for some larger conventions – 3,000-plus people. “We would like to step up to 4,000 or 5,000 (size convention),” Strange said. “Not everybody is going to stay downtown. They are going to stay all over.”

    What is driving the interest has been a downtown hotel occupancy rate around that magic 70 percent level, which catches the attention of hoteliers. He said that the likely new hotels would come on line in about two years and both will be limited-service facilities – no restaurants. Those limited-service hotels are preferable for youths participating in sporting events in the area because they are less expensive, Strange said. He said those limited-service hotels need to be within walking distance or a short commute to one of downtown’s three full-service hotels: Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center, DoubleTree by Hilton and Embassy Suites Montgomery – Hotel & Conference Center.

    With additional downtown hotels, that not only means the capacity for larger conventions, but also to have more meetings, seminars and youth sporting events going on simultaneously. The economic impact of a 200-person convention is about $250,000 and that swells to $650,000 when retail sales, food and beverage sales and gasoline, etc. are added. On average, a conventioneer spends about $250 a night.

    Strange said that hotel demand will continue to increase, “assuming the (economic) recovery keeps going on.”

    He bragged about Montgomery beating out such cities as Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Charleston, S.C., as the country’s “Best Historic City” in an online contest by USA Today. Now add that the city has the highest-percentage increase in annual home sales the last three years; the highest hotel occupancy rate in the state; and all the sporting activities, including the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl. “All of these things go together to make Montgomery an attractive place to come see and experience,” Strange said. “It’s all about energy.”