WORCESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL – When the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Worcester’s Lincoln Square was shuttered in 2010 after the former owner defaulted on debt payments, it left a void.
Without a four-star hotel offering a full-range of services to business travelers, area companies have been forced to look beyond downtown for lodging for their clients and employees.
So when a developer proposed two new hotels for downtown Worcester in December — a four-star, Renaissance by Marriott in CitySquare and a Hampton Inn down the street at Gateway Park — city leaders were eager to make it work.
The Worcester City Council unanimously approved tax increment finance (TIF) deals for the project, which will cost an estimated $38 million, in a show of support. This will defray the tax burden on Colwen Management, based in Portsmouth N.H., as it opens the new hotels.
Developer: No hesitation on plans
The Hampton Inn, which will feature 100 rooms, will open first, according to Mark Stebbens, partner at Colwen, with constructed slated to begin in June. A site plan has been filed with the city planning office, but plans for the Renaissance aren’t expected to be filed until late summer or early fall, according to Stebbens, with construction on the 158-room hotel set to begin in the spring of 2015.
“There’s no hesitation in our mind that it’s going to move forward,” Stebbens said.
Still, Stebbens said the demand for four-star rooms in Worcester isn’t quite as high as he’d like to see it. But he believes that as development efforts at CitySquare continue to take hold in the next couple of years, and as the economy improves, the demand will be there when the Renaissance is scheduled to open in 2016.
Specifically, the city is building a two-story, underground parking garage behind the Unum Group and Saint Vincent Cancer & Wellness Center buildings in CitySquare. The hotel would be built over the garage, Stebbens said.
CitySquare developers approached Colwen about building a four-star hotel downtown, and Colwen, which owns the Renaissance Patriot Place in Foxborough, decided to bring that brand to Worcester. Stebbens said it took about a year to come up with a deal, and he’s excited to bring a four-star hotel back to the downtown area.
“We’re very bullish on Worcester,” said Stebbens, adding that Colwen has “deep roots” in the city; it owns the Marriott Residence Inn on Plantation Street, and the Courtyard by Marriott at Gateway Park.
During and after the Great Recession, a number of area hotel companies have lost their brands, including the former Hampton Inn on Summer Street, which is now a Holiday Inn Express. This may lead former Hampton patrons to look outside Worcester on their next trips, Stebbens said, which is why a Hampton at Gateway is a good idea.
But it’s not just lodging needs that Colwen wants to meet. The amount of available meeting space in the city is lacking, and the Renaissance plans include space to accommodate up to 600 people, which Stebbens said will be the largest capacity among the city’s hotels.
For some events, no room at the inn
The arrival of two new hotels, and a four-star hotel in particular, is something that has officials at Destination Wozrcester, an organization that promotes the city as a prime destination for events and conferences, excited.
“To have that caliber hotel downtown would be tremendous for Worcester,” said Connie Pion, director of Destination Worcester.
When the Crowne Plaza closed, Pion said it became increasingly difficult for the city’s hotels to accommodate guests attending large events at the DCU Center. There are 738 hotel rooms in Worcester now, Pion said, but a DCU event may require around 1,000 rooms, so hotels in neighboring communities end up picking up the slack.
And the prospect of increased meeting space is “just huge,” in terms of the impact to downtown businesses, Pion said.
“It’s pretty nice to be able to just walk out the door,” Pion said.
Marlborough, Westborough plans in the works
Heading east, similar discussions are taking place in communities like Marlborough and Westborough. Each is working with developers on plans to develop new hotels, which will be particularly beneficial for local businesses requiring lodging and meeting space on a regular basis.
In Marlborough, there are a number of hotels, including the Embassy Suites, Best Western and Courtyard by Marriott, to name a few. But Tim Cummings, executive director of the Marlborough Economic Development Corp. (MEDC) said area businesses sometimes find it difficult to book meeting space, given all the corporate events that occur in the city.
Cummings said the number of hotels is certainly a factor in a business’s decision to locate, so if a recent proposal to build a new, 153- room Hilton Garden Inn hotel goes through, Marlborough will become even more attractive to the increasing number of businesses interested in locating in the city. And that’s good for everybody.
“(Hotel guests and meeting attendees) will spend money on food, retail,” Cummings said. “Everyone wins at that point.”
Jim Robbins, Westborough’s town planner, said there’s a shortage of both rooms and meeting space in Westborough and surrounding towns, but also a need for more full-service hotels that offer business travelers the full spectrum of amenities, including upscale dining on site, plus conference space.
Right now, Robbins said businesses in town tend to turn to the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Boston-Westborough for lodging needs, but the town could stand to gain a few more hotels. A proposal to build a Hampton Inn is pending, though it won’t include the kind of business amenities Robbins referred to.
“Business travelers want a nice hotel that they don’t have to leave,” Robbins said. “You don’t generally get that, unless the hotel offers conference space.”
This article originally appeared here.