By DENNIS SEID / NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Three years ago, at the start of the recession, hotel property owners and developers had sketched out plans to add 400 new rooms in Tupelo.
But as the economy soured, those plans were scaled back.
A proposed full-service Holiday Inn on East Main Street adjacent to U.S. Highway 45 was put on hold, plans for a Homewood Suites and a Candlewood Suites were called off, and a trio of planned hotels behind the Malco theatre in Tupelo Commons – Hampton Inn & Suites, Best Western and Residence Inn – also were put on hold or nixed.
But it hasn’t been all bad news for the hospitality industry during the past three years. Comfort Suites opened last year on North Gloster Street, along with La Quinta Inn & Suites. The planned expansion of the Hilton Garden Inn in Fairpark also was completed.
And now, at least two previous projects are back on track, a new hotel is under construction, another project could get under way again in the spring and one hotel is planning an expansion.
On Tom Watson Drive, a Fairfield Inn & Suites is being built and is scheduled to be open in the spring. In Tupelo Commons, work has resumed on the Hampton Inn & Suites site. Also in Tupelo Commons, adjacent to Chili’s, site work has started on a Best Western.
According to the Holiday Inn developer, work should resume on the East Main St. site in the spring.
Meanwhile, the Holiday Inn Express has submitted plans to add 16 rooms to its North Gloster Street location.
All this bodes well for Tupelo, said Convention & Visitors Bureau Executive Director Neal McCoy. The city has about 1,800 hotel rooms, and sometimes there aren’t enough to accommodate all the business travelers, sports fans, sports teams and visitors.
“We look at a report, the Smith Travel Report, that developers also look at as they do their homework, and the numbers we see are good,” he said.
Occupancy rates in Tupelo have held up even during uncertain financial times, and hotel developers see a market ready for newer rooms.
“The market is good; the timing is right,” said Bruce Patel, who owns the Comfort Suites and Howard Johnson in Tupelo.
He’s also the developer of Tupelo’s Best Western.
Patel said the Best Western project wasn’t delayed because of financing issues. Last month, he opened a Holiday Inn Express in Fulton and said he wanted to concentrate on finishing that project before moving on the Tupelo site.
He said the 72-room Best Western will include up to 16 suites, offer wireless Internet, an indoor pool and a fitness center. It’s scheduled to open in August and employ about 20 people.
Alpesh Patel – no relation to Bruce Patel – restarted the Hampton project earlier this month after delaying the project due to financing difficulties. But with money in place, he said the project has the green light.
About a third of the 88 rooms will be suites. The building, Patel said, will have a “cutting-edge design.” The hotel also will offer guests a free, hot breakfast, wireless Internet and an indoor pool. It’s expected to open by June with about 25 employees.
The Fairfield Inn & Suites is being developed by John Tampa, co-owner of Ascent Hospitality in Dalton, Ga. Tampa couldn’t be reached for comment, but Ascent isn’t new to Northeast Mississippi. The company owns the Hampton Inn in New Albany.
Ascent, which owns hotels in Gulfport and Meridian, has a total of 26 properties in the Southeast, Midwest and Northeast.
As for the full-service Holiday Inn plans in east Tupelo, S.L. Sethi, owner of Canton-based Jackie’s International, said he plans to restart work in March or April and possibly have the hotel finished by the end of next year.
McCoy said the added hotel rooms won’t necessarily mean an over-supply.
“We’ll still have 1,700 to 1,800 rooms available because we’ve lost two hotels – the Trace Inn and Quality Inn,” he said. “The last three projects – the Hilton expansion, Comfort Suites and La Quinta – have really been the only new projects that have happened the past three years, and they essentially replaced what we lost.”
Brand familiarity is important to travelers, and the hotels being built have strong followings, McCoy said.
Bruce Patel said he expects competition for travelers’ dollars to be a little more intense as the new hotels open.
“It’s going to boil down to who has the best accommodations, the best service, the best amenities – it all has to flow together,” he said.