Clark, Champaign leaders say demand for hotel space continues to grow

Kylah Smith works at the front desk at the Courtyard by Marriott in Springfield. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Kylah Smith works at the front desk at the Courtyard by Marriott in Springfield. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Community leaders in Clark and Champaign counties say there is a need for more hotel space in the area as the rate of occupied rooms in the area has increased over the last five years.

In some cases, the lack of available hotel space in those counties has caused those traveling to the area for specific events to book outside the counties .

Clark County Commission President Melanie Flax Wilt said it represents a missed opportunity to keep travelers in the county for more than a day. The chance that visitors will spend their money locally either at retailers or restaurants increases the longer they stay in the county.

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There are 1,260 rooms between 18 hotels in Clark County, according to Chris Schutte, vice president of destination marketing and communications for the Chamber of Greater Springfield. Those numbers do not include services such as Airbnb, which is not included in lodge taxes, or traditional bed and breakfasts.

Lodging in the county can span from mid-price ranged hotels that attract the business crowd to smaller motor lodges that may book rooms to patrons for weeks at a time.

The average occupancy rate of county hotels reached an all time high of 74% for the weekends in 2019, Schutte said. He said hotel stays booked over the weekends tend to be by tourist coming into the county for a variety of different reasons. Local tourism factors include events at the Clark County Fairgrounds as well as people from outside of the county traveling to visit students attending universities and colleges in the area such as Wittenberg.

The amount of tax dollars collected annually in Clark County from lodging nearly doubled between 2008 and 2019, going from $550,000 to $1.1 million, according to data provided by the chamber. However, that jump can also be attributed to prolonged hotel stays as well as the average daily rate increasing at some area hotel and motels. Schutte said the latter can be tied to a higher demand for those rooms.

In addition to an increased occupancy rate during the weekends for hotels across Clark County in 2019, the weekday occupancy rate also stood at 64% last year.

Schutte said for Clark County, there has been a jump in those rates since 2014, when the weekend occupancy rate was 61.2%, and the weekday rate was 50.3%.

“So, as we can see, our growth has been fairly dramatic,” he said.

It is something Becky Krieger, the general manager for the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Springfield, has noticed as well. She said there has been a significant growth in occupancy for her hotel over recent years, noting an average occupancy rate of 70% going into 2020.

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The decision for several national and international companies to set up shop in the area in recent years, including auto parts maker Topre America, has also led to an increase in business related travel in the area, Krieger said. That in turn has helped boost business for hotels such as the Courtyard, which has a number of corporate accounts.

The Courtyard was recently sold for $5.6 million to First SOC LLC, a domestic limited liability company. The daily operations of the hotel are expected to stay the same and it will remain as part of Marriott’s Courtyard brand, which offers a variety of mid-price ranged hotels focused on the business crowd but can also accommodate families.

The 120 room hotel also changed management companies and First Hospitality Group, Inc., a property management firm based in Illinois, will oversee daily operations. Renovations are planned for the hotel later this year that will target guestrooms as well as the lobby. Those renovations are “more or less” mandated by Marriott International, the News-Sun reported.

Krieger said the growth in occupancy that she has seen over the years is not just limited to hotels that appeal more to a business crowd.

“I would say a majority of hotels in the area are seeing those increases. For the most part we are all seeing positive change,” Krieger said.

The number of rooms available in the county has increased slightly since 2008 as well, going from 1,170 to 1,260 in 2019. A sizable number of hotels in the county have been around for years, Schutte said, with the newest hotel being the 83-room Holiday Inn Express that opened near Leffel Lane in 2015.

However, Schutte said there have been several renovations at existing hotels in the area over the past decade.

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That includes a major renovation done at the Courtyard by Marriott before it was sold by the Turner Foundation in 2015 to Waramaug LS Hotels, a Florida-based hospitality group, for $6.5 million. The downtown Springfield hotel first opened in 1990 as the Springfield Inn before becoming affiliated with Marriott in 2004.

A large portion of hotels and similar lodging spaces are located near or within the City of Springfield, with a cluster of hotels along Leffel Lane. County hotels appeal to a diverse selection of guests, with some hotels attracting interstate travelers, while others appeal more to the business crowd or those visiting events at the fairgrounds.

Clark County Fairgrounds Executive Director Dean Blair said that during certain months of the year, hotel space can be very limited in the county. In some cases, those traveling to the fairgrounds for specific events have to book a room outside of the county, including in nearby Beavercreek in Greene County or Huber Heights in Montgomery County.

Blair said that the fairgrounds host more than 300 events a year and has set up corporate rates for out-of-town travelers with several hotels located near downtown Springfield.

However, Clark County Commissioner Wilt said there are currently no hotels, with adequate space, near the fairgrounds. She said that can be a deterrent for travelers who may have spent more than a day there if lodging was closer.

The county purchased a former Ohio National Guard Armory site several years ago that is located near the fairgrounds and there have been ongoing discussions centered around turning it into hotel space.

Blair said, if that were the case, he estimates that the property would most likely be able to accommodate 75 to 85 rooms.

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However, the need for more hotel space is not just limited to Clark County. A lack of available hotel space in Champaign County, especially near Urbana, lead to the demand for a Cobblestone Hotel in the city. A feasibility study in 2018 showed that Urbana could support the hotel.

Construction on the 54-room hotel that will be located near the intersection of U.S. 55 and U.S. 68 started last year and is expected to be completed before April.

Marcia Bailey, the economic development director for Champaign County, said a local of hotel space has caused them to miss countless opportunities to cash in on tourism dollars. She told the News-Sun that Urbana University alone brings in 2,500 visitors just for athletic events alone every year and there is not a lot of lodging options available to them in the county.

The new Cobblestone will be able to be expanded in case there is a need for more rooms in the near future, Bailey added.

By the numbers:

1,260: Number of hotel rooms in Clark County in 2019

1,170: Number of hotel rooms in Clark County in 2008

$1.1 million: Amount of revenue generated in Clark County in 2019 from lodging taxes

74%: Average weekend occupancy rate for hotels in Clark County during 2019

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