New in­vestor named in civic cen­ter project

PR Hos­pi­tal­ity Group se­lected

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - By Rachel Oswald

A new private in­vestor has been se­lected to fill the role left by No­bel-In­vest­ment Group in the de­vel­op­ment of the ho­tel/ civic cen­ter project.

PR Hos­pi­tal­ity Group of At­lanta was se­lected to lead the plan­ning of the project Tues­day by a joint task force of county com­mis­sion­ers, Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil mem­bers and other civic lead­ers.

PR Hos­pi­tal­ity Group, es­tab­lished in 1996, will likely spend at least $9 mil­lion build­ing an up­scale ho­tel to co­in­cide with the civic cen­ter.

The ho­tel brand prod­uct has not yet been se­lected but Phil Ri­ley, owner and pres­i­dent of PR Hos­pi­tal­ity Group, said there is a good chance that it will be a Hil­ton ho­tel.

The choice of PR Hos­pi­tal­ity Group came af­ter a day of meet­ings with Ri­ley and mem­bers of an­other group of private in­vestors which also vied for con­sid­er­a­tion in the project.

John Boothby, Cov­ing­ton/ New­ton County Cham­ber of Com­merce pres­i­dent, said while both groups gave strong pre­sen­ta­tions, the task force ul­ti­mately de­cided on PR Hos­pi­tal­ity be­cause of their pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence with pub­lic/ private ini­tia­tives.

“When you tal­lied it up, the tie breaker was the ex­pe­ri­ence in the pub­lic/ private part­ner­ship,” said Boothby who sits on the task force.

Ac­cord­ing to the PR Hos­pi­tal­ity Web- site, their projects in­clude ho­tels and casi­nos in Iowa, Wis­con­sin, Wash­ing­ton and Louisiana. In ad­di­tion, Ri­ley was con­sid­er­ably in­volved in the de­vel­op­ment of ho­tels sur­round­ing the Harts­field- Jack­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

“ I’m more ex­cited in the project than I’ve ever been,” Boothby said of PR Hos­pi­tal­ity’s in­volve­ment in the project. “ It’s re­ally go­ing to shape this com­mu­nity’s fu­ture for years to come.”

Boothby said the sec­ond group of in­vestors — Navin Shah, owner and op­er­a­tor of the Cony­ers Hamp­ton Inn, Chuck Thakker and Dr. Anil De­sai — were lo­cal res­i­dents who made a strong case for their con­sid­er­a­tion.

“The task force was very im­pressed with their fi­nan­cial strength, ties to the com­mu­nity and flex­i­bil­ity,” Boothby said. “ We gen­uinely like deal­ing with them and like them as part­ners.”

Ri­ley, who is also a Cer­ti­fied Ho­tel Ad­min­is­tra­tor, said he was made aware of the project by BB&T who en­cour­aged his com­pany to make a pitch to the task force.

“ I thought it was a unique project,” Ri­ley said. “ It’s just some­thing I be­lieve would be a good match for the city of Cov­ing­ton as well as my com­pany.

While the to­tal cost of the ho­tel/ civic cen­ter project was orig­i­nally es­ti­mated at $ 24 mil­lion, that cost will have likely in­creased say Boothby and Ri­ley due to the ris­ing cost of con­struc­tion.

“Those num­bers are three years old and the cost has gone up tremen­dously,” Ri­ley said. “ To de­velop a fa­cil­ity like that will mean more money.”

The scope of the project in­cludes a 100- room up­scale ho­tel with 6,000 square feet of con­fer­ence space and a 1,200 seat civic cen­ter lo­cated ad­ja­cent to the ho­tel where the old county ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing is cur­rently lo­cated.

In ad­di­tion to the PR Hos­pi­tal­ity con­tri­bu­tion, fund­ing for the ho­tel/ civic cen­ter will come from a $ 5 mil­lion Spe­cial Pur­pose Lo­cal Op­tion Sales Tax al­lo­ca­tion, ho­tel/ mo­tel taxes which are ex­pected to con­trib­ute $ 3.5 mil­lion and bonds sold by the New­ton County In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Author­ity to $ 12.1 mil­lion).

Ri­ley said he ex­pects the ho­tel will be a ei­ther a Hil­ton Gar­den Inn or a Dou­bletree.

“ It’s not a Hy­att or Mar­riott gen­eral lo­ca­tion,” said Ri­ley of the down­town Cov­ing­ton area.

Ri­ley said he has al­ready had con­ver­sa­tions with the Hil­ton Ho­tel Cor­po­ra­tion about the project.

“ They’re very ex­cited so we’ll see where it goes,” Ri­ley said. “ Hil­ton Gar­den Inn right now is a hot brand. Ev­ery­one wants one. They’re kind of picky and choosy on where they put one. We may end up forced to go in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion.”

Ri­ley said he would push for a Dou­bletree be­cause there aren’t any re­stric­tions on the amount of floor space which can be ded­i­cated to a con­fer­ence cen­ter ( the Hil­ton Gar­den Inn only al­lows 4,000 square feet.)

In ad­di­tion Ri­ley said the task force would like to see a restau­rant serv­ing food through­out the day in the ho­tel which the Hil­ton Gar­den brand also does not al­low.

“ There are some hills to climb if you’re go­ing to make it a Hil­ton Gar­den Inn,” Ri­ley said. “How­ever if you make it a Dou­bletree, there are no re­stric­tions. We’re prob­a­bly go­ing to lean that way be­cause the bat­tles are eas­ier.”

Over the course of the next

( up three months, Ri­ley said he would be meet­ing with the task force, prospec­tive ar­chi­tects and builders as well as work­ing on the con­cept draw­ings and floor plan for the project.

Among the ar­chi­tects up for con­sid­er­a­tion ac­cord­ing to Ri­ley are Ly­man, David­son, Doo­ley, Inc, the firm which de­signed the New­ton County Ad­min­is­tra­tion Build­ing, and Greg Port­man, who has ex­pe­ri­ence with de­sign­ing Hil­ton Inns in At­lanta.

“ This next 90 days is re­ally a due dili­gence pe­riod of time to bring the ar­chi­tect and con­tracts to­gether,” Ri­ley said.

While no le­gal agree­ment has yet been signed be­tween the Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil, the BOC and PR Hos­pi­tal­ity, Ri­ley in broad terms sketched out the de­tails of the agree­ment.

PR Hos­pi­tal­ity will own the ho­tel which will be man­aged by the se­lected ho­tel com­pany. PR Hos­pi­tal­ity will have a man­age­ment agree­ment tai­lored to main­te­nance and daily house­keep­ing du­ties for the civic cen­ter. The county/ city will own the civic cen­ter which will be op­er­ated by the Arts As­so­ci­a­tion in New­ton County.

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