To some extent, chest-pounding boosterism has led to the general population seeing “big deals” only in the addition of 1,000-worker distribution centers or 3,000-worker auto plants. Even homegrown expansions that add 100 jobs here, 200 there tend to get little attention unless ... well, unless there is nothing else to brag about.
This totally misses the broader, grander implications about something fundamental changing in a way that, like an undersea volcano erupting, will eventually over time lead to the equivalent of a lush tropical paradise.
That is what it means for Rome to have firmly in hand the arrival of not one but three (1, 2, 3!) of what are known as “full-service hotels” where it now technically has none since the old Holiday Inn/Ramada Skytop went out of business in 2009 and the adjoining/attached restaurant at Hawthorn Suites closed three years ago. Those will be the new five-story, 100-plus room Marriott Courtyard on West Third Street, the refurbishment of the closed Skytop into a 120-room Ramada Conference Center on U.S. 411, and the expansion of the downtown Hawthorn Suites toward 100-plus rooms. They’re all going to be happening more or less simultaneously.
Perhaps that last is stretching the minimal commercial definition of “full service” just a tad — it is having a full-service restaurant attached — but the approved/permitted/financed two-phase expansion of the Hawthorn doubtless should qualify. It is certainly already the most “upscale” of existing properties and will have most all the other amenities usually associated with such, including a catering kitchen and large meeting room. A restaurant, with a half-dozen of Rome’s finest less than a block from the location, would seem unnecessary.
FULL-SERVICE hotels also usually have most (not necessarily all) of such as large banquet/meeting halls with kitchens, smaller meeting/board rooms, indoor pools, bars, fitness centers, business centers, babysitting services and often mini-apartments with living room, master bedroom/bath for company presidents, guest speakers, hospitality suites and similar. Indeed, the released floor plan for the Marriott shows four such on each of the three residential floors.
When the olden-days Skytop opened in 1983 and was the primary nightlife spot in Rome (seriously … times have really changed hereabouts) it could host large business meetings and conferences, although basically on the outskirts of the true town. Now shortly, Greater Rome will have triple that former capacity which vanished in 2009 with the 2008 great recessionary crash blamed as businesses started cutting expenses … and meetings.
This is about the strongest signal yet received that Greater Rome is part of the national economic resurgence, led by the private sector as always. Big-dollar investors pretty much all grew up playing Monopoly. They don’t plop hotels on board spaces without expecting an eventual big return.
Sure, on the surface this surge, for which community leaders have been angling for many years, appears puzzling. The unemployment rate hereabouts remains higher than in the state as a whole and yes, of the nation’s 366 metropolitan statistical areas Rome was recently ranked No. 312 in gross domestic product, although likely due in part to a good thing: It simply costs a whole lot less to live here so fewer dollars have to be expended for the same things costing more elsewhere.
GREATER ROME on occasion sees its considerable existing number of rental bedrooms overflowing when major events take place (Atlanta Steeplechase coming up next month, by the way). College sports events, tennis tournaments, graduations and so forth generate one-to-two-day stays where the main need is a place to sleep, wi-fi access and a free yogurt for breakfast. Such “inns” — most of them pretty nice and offering other amenities, by the way — already line U.S. 411 in particular like soldiers.
Full-service hotels are different in more than room prices. The best way to grasp what such facilities aim for is to describe them as gathering places rather than simply sleeping places.
They cater to business meetings, sales training sessions, convention goers and similar (the Marriott is angling for control of bookings at The Forum that will practically be an annex to it right across the pedestrian bridge … and the Hawthorn is almost next door to The Forum as well).
It goes largely unrecognized that Greater Rome is the national headquarters for several large companies, has huge facilities/operations of others, plus top-notch medical and educational centers that constantly pull a steady stream of smaller gatherings, conferences, vendors and such most of which involve stays of three or four days duration. Such visitors, many on expense accounts, are looking for a home-away-from-home with all comforts. They also have time to fill with eating out, seeking entertainment, shopping and so forth all of which are good for business in general … and tax revenues.
And, in the process, such added customers cause new local enterprises to be created.
THIS IS WHY the proposed Tennis Center of Georgia, sure to be on the upcoming SPLOST, gets so much attention. Floyd County already hosts a bunch of tennis tournaments. If it has the ability to pull up to 30 a year, some perhaps national, those typically last three or four days with hundreds of participants/spectators. Folks who sleep here on their way through, or stop off for a one-day something, are not “customers” in the best sense of term. Those who gather locally for something other than a night’s rest are the best customers.
Also, since it seems unmentioned in all the announcements, these expansions will bring new jobs — let’s guess about 200 or so in total. That element alone is ordinarily top-of-the-page headline material.
However, here’s the frosting on this largely invisible cake. Nationally there is a reported resurgence in business meeting/convention activity as the private sector starts roaring back (don’t look for more governmental conferences though). It is fueling plans to build full-service hotels again across the nation, which the Atlanta metro recently noted is obvious there.
The Atlanta paper tallied up what was going on its turf: four new ones proposed, two older ones being brought back. The Atlanta MSA is made up of 28 counties with almost 6 million residents.
At the same time, in the Rome MSA (one county, 96,000 residents) there is one new hotel firm — not just planned — and two others being revived or greatly expanded.
The two “markets” are totally dissimilar in more than size, of course, though both are aware that attracting flow-through dollars from the outside for gatherings/events are what supercharges economic engines.
ROME IS ALSO distinctly its own place, viable without sucking life from any nearby big city and offering special side attractions all its own. Yet, until now, it never had the full-service facilities able to compete even for the smaller meeting diamonds that free enterprise scatters about far and wide. It shortly will have.
It is not only a game changer for the local economy, it is a major step up the ladder.