Can a sports-focused hotel breathe new life into the neighborhoods around Bojangles’ Coliseum?
The city of Charlotte and a Sarasota, Fla.-based developer are considering spending a combined $72 million on a new hotel and indoor-sports facility, which is designed to cater to amateur sports teams on the weekends and fitness-conscious travelers during the week.
The developer, GoodSports, is bullish on the concept and is moving forward with similar projects in suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, and St. Louis, as well as Wichita, Kan. They believe they can make money hosting indoor youth sports tournaments that could attract indoor sports teams from the state and region.
The plan for Charlotte is to build a 125-room hotel with an 85,000 square-foot “field house” for sports in the next two years.
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“If you talk to any (convention and visitors bureau) or sports commission, they will tell you the biggest lacking part of their (sports inventory) is covered indoor space,” said Richard Blalock, vice president of special projects with GoodSports. “Basketball, volleyball, mat sports – that’s the biggest need of the market.”
The city and GoodSports haven’t yet reached a deal, though city officials say they hope to have a proposal for the City Council’s economic development committee by April.
The city is considering leasing GoodSports land for $1 a year near Ovens Auditorium and Bojangles’ Coliseum that is currently a parking lot. In addition, the city has proposed subsidizing the concept with $18 million in upfront money, which was part of last year’s $816 million capital spending program.
There are risks for the city and developer.
Unlike most economic development projects, GoodSports is requesting – and could receive – some or all of the $18 million before the project is finished.
When offering incentives, the city usually waits for a project to be completed and for the developer to begin paying property taxes. Then a portion of those taxes is refunded to the developer.
Brad Richardson, the city’s economic development director, acknowledged the Bojangles’ redevelopment proposal has a “higher risk” than many other public-private partnerships. “That’s what we have to work through, and deliver a deal that council will be comfortable with,” Richardson said.
The City Council’s economic development committee is scheduled to review the proposal April 3.
GoodSports said the other hotels and field houses it is planning to build are also subsidized by local governments.
Charlotte also recently spent $3.5 million buying the Econo Lodge hotel adjacent to Ovens Auditorium. The city plans to eventually tear down the property and use the site for parking for the hotel.
If the project fails, the city would be stuck owning a hotel that wasn’t considered a particular eyesore or nuisance.
GoodSports, whose parent company is a hotel builder called Focus, is planning to invest $54 million in an area of Charlotte that has struggled to retain businesses. It’s unclear whether during the week business and leisure travelers can be enticed to stay on Independence Boulevard, 10 minutes from uptown’s office buildings and attractions.
GoodSports said its hotel would be different, catering to travelers who want to stay in shape during the week.
“When you are in town, you have your own regiment,” said David Lindberg of GoodSports. “When you are on the road, you break that. A corporate traveler wants a full-fledged workout center, not a 500-(square-)foot center with two cardio machines.”
The city has been aggressive recently in trying to fight blight along Independence Boulevard and in east Charlotte.
Across from Bojangles’ Coliseum, it bought a closed IHOP and a crime-ridden hotel. Both have since been torn down.
To the east, the city spent $13.2 million buying Eastland Mall, which was closed. The demolition of the mall is almost complete.
GoodSports said its hotel and field house would bring in so much business that other businesses would benefit, which would help improve the eastside.
It projects the field house would generate 80,000 to 100,000 hotel room nights a year, which would spill over to other hotels.
For comparison, all of the conventions and events at the Charlotte Convention Center create about 150,000 hotel room nights annually.
The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority has long said that amateur sports is one of its biggest draws, producing as much as half of the hotel business that it books.
“The need for amateur sports facilities is big,” said Doug Shipley, who is working to open an outdoor sports complex, the Rugby Athletic Center, off South Tryon Street for rugby, Gaelic football and soccer. “It’s a big revenue generator.”