Valley’s room boom

Conceptual planning for the new Residence Inn at the Eastwood Mall began in earnest two years ago because of the ”dearth” of business-class hotels in Trumbull County, said the spokesman for mall operator the Cafaro Co.

But with the realization that Trumbull and Mahoning counties would play prominently in the natural gas and oil drilling industry, planning on the multimillion dollar hotel and conference center accelerated, said Joe Bell, Cafaro director of corporate communications.

That industry ”adds another component, another aspect of the clientele” of people who have a need for an extended-stay facility, Bell said.

While much of the area’s recent hotel development is being heavily driven by expectation of the shale drilling boom, make no mistake, that isn’t the only driver.

It’s also hoped the new Niles facility will help make the mall even more of the Mahoning Valley’s one-stop destination and travel center for dining and entertainment, he said.

The addition of the new Eastwood facility and discussion about new hotels in Liberty and Girard, the number of available Trumbull County rooms could soon grow from the current approximately 1,800 hotel rooms to as high as 2,100. In addition, a downtown Warren hotel has undergone major renovations and a name change that will be made official at Tuesday’s grand-reopening.

In neighboring Mahoning County, it was announced last week that plans are being laid for a new downtown Youngstown hotel.

Final plans are expected to be released within the month.

Stephanie L. Sferra, executive director of the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, said hotel taxes, also known as ”bed taxes,” are starting to grow again after falling off in 2009, which is when the county saw a 12 percent decrease from the previous year.

The reduction had Sferra slash her budget by $40,000, but she said she still stressed the need to market and advertise the county.

”Even in the down time, even when it was bad, we continued to market and advertise,” Sferra said.

Bed taxes, which in part fund the tourism bureau, are back on the increase. Since 2010, which saw revenue of about $229,000, revenue has gone up 8 percent in 2011 and 10 percent in 2012.

Work on the new hotel at Eastwood Mall, meanwhile, is progressing, but the weather has caused a snag – a delay in putting up the iron framework of the hotel that will push the open date back at least a few months. Instead of around November, completion is now set for early 2014.

”Otherwise, all demolition work and site prep work has been completed,” Bell said.

The $14 million project is a four-story, 103-room facility and conference center that will be able to host as few as 25 to as many as 1,000. In addition to the suites, the hotel will have a pool, fitness center, sports court, outdoor patio with firepit, free breakfast buffet and in the evenings, a temporary bar for social gatherings.

Scott J. Yaeger, president of Radius Hospitality in North Canton, is partnering with a man from Liberty to build a Comfort Suites and banquet facility on empty property that was once home to an old Ramada Inn.

Yaeger said work is still being done on the initial stages of the project.

”There are a lot of moving pieces right now,” Yaeger said. ”We want to do the project. We’re just trying to nail down a lot of the details.”

The multimillion dollar facility would have 84 suites and meeting room. In addition, there are plans to have a banquet center and other limited retail space on the property, near the Interstate 80 interchange.

The idea, Yaeger said, is taking that piece of land and ”really bringing it back and developing it and starting some excitement in that corridor.”

Yaeger said the project has been in development for about two years.

Also in Trumbull County, big changes have been done to a hotel on Warren’s Courthouse Square.

The former Comfort Inn underwent a $1.2 million renovation and is now the Best Western Park Hotel, said owner Ashok Patel. Best Western approved placing in the name Park Hotel, the original name of the hotel when it opened in 1888.

And when Patel says everything in the hotel is new, he means everything from the new crown molding to the carpet. Said Patel, a certified hotel operator, ”if you’re going to do it, do it right.”

Some of the improvements include new wooden furniture, beds, pillowtop mattresses, windows and granite countertops in the bathrooms. Also, each room now has a closet, which were built in empty nooks, Patel said.

The hotel’s breakfast area was moved from the basement into a new space on the ground floor, and the fitness room was expanded and upgraded with new equipment. Breakfast is complimentary.

Other amenities include alarm clocks with ports for mp3 players and lamps with outlets. Each room has a single-cup coffee maker, 32-inch flat screen television, microwave and refrigerator, and the hotel has free high speed wireless Internet. A new security system with 42 cameras also was installed.

The hotel has a banquet room that seats up to 175 people and a smaller meeting room that can accommodate about 50 people, Patel said. A 24-hour business center with printing and faxing is available.

Patel and his wife, Jay, bought the hotel in May 2011. He said he’s working with a real estate agent on getting a brand name restaurant in the hotel.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for the newly renovated hotel will be 11 a.m. March 12. Tours of the property will be provided.

In Girard, the possibility of converting the former Kay Lanes property on South State Street into a hotel appears to be off the table, Mayor James Melfi said.

”As of right now, that is on hold, as far as I know,” Melfi said.

The mayor said the possible establishment of a Red Roof Inn was among the inquiries for the property, just a short distance south of Interstate 80.

Chris Cua, director of development for Red Roof, said although that plan is on hold, the effort to locate a Red Roof here is not. Cua said there are sites in Trumbull County that could accommodate another hotel.

”We have Red Roofs in the area already, so we have to be careful of the franchisees, but I think there is more room for hotels, especially with the oil and gas industry.”

Proof of increase in local hotel usage is an 18 percent increase over the last two years in the bed tax revenue, which stood at $229,000 in 2010.

Sam Shah, owner of the Hampton Inn, a 66-room hotel on Belmont Avenue in Liberty, said he’s seen a big change in business since September, but isn’t exactly sure why.

People doing shale-related work had been staying there, but are gone now. And he foresees other shale-related workers to find less expensive lodging.

Also, Shah said, spring bookings are down compared to last year, which Shah attributes at least some to people’s uncertain finances.