Champaign County examines demand for new hotel

Champaign County’s economic development organization is working with a Wisconsin-based consultant to determine if there’s enough demand for a new hotel in the community.

Champaign County has rooms available for overnight stays, including a downtown bed and breakfast and businesses like the Econo Lodge Inn and Suites and the Logan Lodge Motel. But the county hasn’t had a new hotel in years and it’s a topic that’s been discussed for a long time with little progress made, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the Champaign Economic Partnership.

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“There just hasn’t been the initiative to go further with it,” Bailey said.

A 2013 study by Tourism Economics showed that the total tourism impact in Champaign County resulted in more than $47 million in sales and enables the employment of more than 350 people in the county, according to information on the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce website.

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The CEP, which acts as the economic development entity for Champaign County, pulled together a study committee that includes representatives from the city of Urbana, Champaign County commissioners, visitor’s bureau and local businesses. They also hired Core Distinction Group, a consulting firm that’s developing a report to determine whether a new hotel is feasible.

The goal isn’t to harm existing lodging businesses in the county, Bailey said, but to ensure enough rooms are available to meet demand.

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“Tourism has a big economic impact,” Bailey said. “So we want to increase that business, not decrease it.”

Jessica Junker, a managing partner for Core, recently visited Urbana and conducted interviews with area businesses and local attractions that typically draw visitors overnight. The results could be available in a few weeks, Junker said.

It’s possible the county needs more lodging, she said. But if it’s only a small number of rooms it may be possible to instead attract more bed-and-breakfast options to the Champaign County, Junker said, or add more rooms to existing locations.

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Elton Cultice is the airport manager at Grimes Field in Urbana. The air field typically hosts events a few times a year, including a gathering of World War II B-17 bombers scheduled for this spring. The air field is also planning to host a hot air balloon festival this fall.

The air field has blocked off as many as 100 hotel rooms for pilots and their crews for past events, Cultice said, but he typically does so at Springfield hotels because few options exist in Champaign County.

That means Champaign County has fewer opportunities for visits to local restaurants and less gasoline sales, for example, he said.

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“It’s a boost to the local economy and it’s a shame we can’t get them to stay here and do more,” Cultice said of visitors.

Aaron Smith, manager at the Ohio Caverns, said staff members there sometimes direct visitors to Champaign County locations but more often it’s to hotels in either Clark or Logan counties. Those communities have more name-brand lodgings for customers, he said.

If the consulting firm determines a new hotel makes sense, Bailey said the next step would be for local leaders to seek out potential investors and determine which locations might work.

“We’re sending a lot of people to other communities that if we had a hotel here, we could accommodate the need,” Bailey said.

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