Hotel to bring ‘thousands of visitors’ beginning in early 2005

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 31, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

The resurgence of downtown Suffolk took a vital leap forward Thursday in the words of officials touting the formal groundbreaking for the $22 million Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center at Constant’s Wharf.

Persistence and hard work were the themes echoed by speaker after speaker in recounting the five-year, often controversial effort to seal the hotel deal.

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&uot;We’re celebrating another jewel in the crown of what we call Suffolk,&uot; Mayor E. Dana Dickens III said at the event, attended by more than a hundred guests. ‘It’s a great day to be in Suffolk.&uot;

The all-brick, 150-room hotel and 15,000-square-foot conference facility is expected to open in early 2005. The development includes a 4.5-acre park, boardwalk and 35-slip marina.

The facility is being constructed through a partnership between the Suffolk Industrial Development Authority and Stormont Noble Development Group. Last month the IDA sold $19.8 million in industrial revenue bonds to fund its portion of the hotel and conference center. TowneBank is providing financing for Stormont Nobel Development Group.

Dickens noted that it was in 1998 that city council elevated the priority of revitalizing downtown and that a quality hotel at Constant’s Wharf – along with the renovation of the Professional Building and the creation of a cultural arts center – was central to the effort.

&uot;Today the renaissance of downtown takes a giant leap forward with the addition of jobs and capital investment,&uot; Dickens said.

The mayor went on to tout the success of downtown development efforts, noting that it was decided that an initial public investment – the location of the Godwin Courts building in downtown along with $3 million in streetscape – would fuel private investment. He said the value of downtown property has increased from $249.5 million in 1996 to $306 million today. Over the same period, he said, the city’s fund balance has grown from &uot;an anemic&uot; $650,000 to more than $17 million.

&uot;The flight from downtown of existing businesses has been halted,&uot; he said.

City Manager Steve Herbert – credited by nearly every speaker for being the catalyst in bringing about the Hilton Garden Inn – said the original team of downtown business owners, property owners and residents that conceived the city’s downtown revitalization strategy would be reconvened to determine &uot;where we go from here.&uot;

&uot;We’re beginning to have a parking problem…who would have thunk (sic) it,&uot; Herbert said. &uot;A good problem to have, it means people are coming back.&uot;

Not only are people coming back, he went on, but that the hotel’s opening next year will bring thousands of visitors – &uot;Get ready.&uot;

Both Herbert and Dickens cited the efforts of IDA chairman John Harrell and the IDA board, finance director Christine Ledford, former Councilman Thomas Woodward, former City Manager Myles Standish, downtown development director Elizabeth McCoury, and Del. Chris Jones, who helped secure a sales tax rebate for the city on the hotel and $750,000 to help with bulkhead work, in making the hotel a reality.

Richard Stormont, managing director of Stormont Noble Development, said he was thrilled to have been selected to develop the project five years ago after having worked with Herbert on the Renaissance Hotel project in Portsmouth. After 9-11, Stormont struggled to obtain financing for the project, but said Thursday that in hindsight, the delays have turned out to be a good thing.

&uot;Nine-Eleven did us a favor,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re fortunate we have had a chance to delay to make this project the best it can be. This is going to be a fine, fine, hotel.&uot;

Stormont also thanked Herbert, Harrell and others for their tenacity in seeing the project through.

&uot;Winston Churchill said ‘never give up, never give up, never give up,’ I think that’s been the theme of this project,&uot; he said. &uot;We believe in Suffolk, we’re proud to be here.&uot;