Hart Hotels, which owns a number of hotels in the northeast, is proposing to dramatically expand and renovate its Holiday Inn property on South Cayuga Street, near the Commons. Hart Hotels’ CEO said the project would expand the building’s meeting space threefold, fill empty rooms during the weekdays and generate business in downtown Ithaca.
The expansion, if approved, will replace some of the hotel’s existing structures with a new nine-story tower. The tower will result in a net increase of 13 rooms, bringing the total number of rooms from 182 to 195.
The expansion will also include a conference center, two-story ballroom and outdoor rooftop entertainment area to the north side of the hotel, increasing its available space for business meetings from 4,000 to 12,000 square feet, said David Hart, president and CEO of Hart Hotels.
Hart Hotels has not submitted designs for the proposed expansion but plans to do so in the next several months, Hart said.
Hart said the new conference center could improve low occupancy rates during weekdays, a longstanding problem for hotels in Ithaca. While activity generated by Cornell, Ithaca College and tourism in the Finger Lakes region fills about 75 percent of hotel rooms on Fridays and Saturdays — booking rooms out completely 40 weekends a year — fewer than 50 percent of rooms are filled from Sunday to Thursday, Hart said.
“Our belief is that we can add this function space and bring in the small groups that really have a demand to come to Ithaca but don’t have the facilities downtown to accommodate them,” he said, noting that visitors traveling for business usually book rooms for the weekdays. “If there are two-or-three day meetings, those people may spend more time in the Commons, maybe going to the State Street Theater, shops and restaurants … bringing in people who will spend time in the community patronizing those [businesses],” Hart said.
Hart said the expansion could also help visitors coming to Cornell, who often face difficulties booking accommodation on the weekends when demand for rooms is “very high.”
Bruce Stoff, communications manager at the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said he believed the expansion would help bring more visitors who are on business to Ithaca.
“From a tourism perspective, it’s wonderful getting more rooms, but the ballroom facilities will really help us out [from a business perspective] because those attract midweek and off-season meetings when we can really handle more business,” Stoff said.
Like Hart, Stoff said the expansion would address the lack of facilities available to host conferences.
“We’re really limited in the number of meeting spaces we have in the county, and it definitely keeps us from getting those mid-size meetings,” Stoff said, adding that while he doesn’t believe Ithaca is big enough to host major conventions, the expansion will help draw smaller meetings to the area.
John Schroeder ’74, chair of the Planning and Development Board and The Sun’s production manager, said the lack of sufficient space for hosting conferences and larger meetings downtown has been an unmet opportunity.
“It sounds like a great idea,” he said. “The addition of meeting and conference space has been identified as a long-standing downtown need, and fulfilling that need would be a great thing.”
Other city officials agreed that encouraging development downtown is necessary.
“[It is] a good idea to renovate the older lower story buildings. They’re tired spaces ripe for redevelopment in the prime core of downtown,” Alderperson Ellen McCollister ’78 (D-3rd Ward) said.
Alderperson Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) agreed.
“I think putting visitors and tourists downtown, close to the Commons and close to our local businesses is a good idea,” Myrick said.
Stoff also affirmed the CVA’s support for the proposal.
“We’re here to help drive revenue for the community,” he said. “When people come in for meetings … first you get revenues that pay off in sales and room tax but then you also get shopping, dining, tourism, sightseeing and really lucrative spending in the marketplace that we’re not currently able to satisfy as well as we’d like.”
Hart has not submitted a formal proposal to the City of Ithaca yet, but he said he hopes to attain the city’s approval soon so he can begin construction in November 2012.
Hart hopes to attain the city’s approval soon so he can begin construction in November 2012.
“I believe it will have a significant impact not only on our hotel but also on the community as well,” he said, adding that besides drawing visitors downtown, the expansion will also generate 20 to 25 jobs at the hotel. “We've been doing business here for 20 years, so we believe it's time to enhance our facility.”