Updated Wed, May 14, 2014 4:24 pm
Ground has been broken to make way for a new 87-room upscale hotel on East State Street, which will provide more overnight occupancy and tax revenue for the county.
SJB Development, Inc. of Athens will develop and operate an 87-room Fairfield Inn & Suites, which will be located at 924 E. State St. The projected cost for the hotel is $8.35 million and is slated to open in April 2015.
"Athens has been an excellent location for our hotel business. We look forward to adding another quality hotel to the area," said Jack Bortle, SJB Development president.
SJB Development Inc. is owned by Bortle and his wife Sandy. They have developed more than 35 hotel projects in Ohio, West Virginia and Indiana. In Athens, they also own the Hampton Inn and manage the Baymont Inn & Suites.
The new hotel will offer free high-speed Internet, high definition televisions, free morning breakfast, an indoor pool, exercise room, refrigerators and microwaves in all rooms and a meeting room.
Paige Alost, executive director for the Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she's happy that Athens will have more hotel rooms. In recent years lodging establishments have been fully booked during most weekends, with a steady occupancy throughout the week as well, Alost added. She attributed this to increased hotel occupancy to additional meetings, conventions and workshops held in the area.
Franchise hotels bring more conferences to Athens, Alost said, due to their name recognition and reward programs.
"We've seen the tourism game elevated by having their presence here," she said.
According to Alost, her agency has had to turn away lots of visitors looking for lodging during large Ohio University events such as family weekends or sporting events. She said she refers those visitors to lodging establishments in neighboring counties, meaning that Athens County is missing out on the tax revenue from those guests.
The tourism bureau also directly benefits from those tax dollars. There is a lodging tax on all lodging accommodations in the county. Three percent goes to the city of Athens and 3 percent goes to the county. Of that tax revenue, the county gives 95 percent of its lodging tax to the tourism bureau and the city provides 35 percent of its share to the agency.
Although there are motels and bed and breakfasts scattered throughout the county, all hotels are within the city of Athens.
This portion of the lodging tax accounts for the entire Athens County Convention and Visitors Bureau budget. The bureau's current budget is $418,000. Alost said that that revenue is actually up 20 percent already this year. She said more hotel rooms in the county will provide additional revenue for the tourism bureau to market the county.
According to Alost, the last tourism impact study conducted showed that visitors spent $130.5 million in Athens County in 2011 alone.
"Most of this money comes from people who are visiting from outside of the area. So it's infusion of new money, which is a good thing," Alost said.