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Convention center hotels make a comeback

Courtesy Wilmington and the Beaches CVB

After several years of little to no development of convention hotels, it appears that a number of long-delayed projects in small and midsize cities will soon get under way.

Several hotels, including those in Wilmington, N.C., and Jekyll Island, Ga., will be built next to convention centers that opened within the past several years. The addition of an adjacent, full-service hotel is expected to further boost convention business.

Convention center hotels also are being proposed in Savannah, Ga.; Portland, Ore.; and Palm Beach County, Fla.

One step closer

In Wilmington, N.C., Harmony Hospitality Inc. in November submitted to Hilton Hotels its application to build a $33.6 million Embassy Suites Hotel. The 186-room property would be adjacent to the Wilmington Convention Center, which opened in 2010, and would have 6,600 square feet of meeting space and a full-service restaurant and bar. A full-service Hilton hotel three blocks from the hotel now serves as the main convention center hotel.

“The project has taken another step forward, and we are excited about that,” said Kim Hufham, president and CEO of the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have found that some planners and their groups don’t mind being a few blocks away from the convention center, but some want to be at the center itself.”

Originally, the city planned to open a convention center hotel at the same time as the center, but that hotel fell through as did two subsequent hotel proposals.

The center has lost some business because of  the lack of a convention center hotel, Hufham said. And, business is waiting in the wings.

“We do have a list of groups that are waiting to come here,” she said. “They say, ‘Contact us as soon as you know there will be a convention center hotel, and we will come.’”

Officials hope a hotel will be open by mid-2014, but as Hufham points out, “until we see shovels moving out there,” there’s no way to predict an opening date. A full-service Hilton hotel three blocks from the center now serves as headquarters hotel.

Despite the lack of a convention center hotel the center has done well, earning accolades from meeting industry publications. Several conventions held there have set records for  attendance, Hufham said.