Tourism is a big part of the economy in Bloomington, Indiana.
Sporting events, graduations and conferences pump hundreds of millions of dollars into restaurants and hotels each year.
All those events are boosting demand for hotel rooms, so this year developers are adding the most hotel rooms Monroe County officials have seen in a decade.
Three Hotels Adding 400 Rooms In Bloomington
SpringHill Suites Bloomington General Manager Vicki Wicks helped snip the ribbon marking the first of three large-scale hotels that will open for business this year in Bloomington.
“We are already sold out for parents weekend November 7 and 8. We are almost sold out for homecoming. Freshman weekend is almost sold out and we have reservations into January 2015,” she says.
Along with the 155 rooms at the SpringHill Suites downtown location, Candlewood Suites will offer an additional 84 rooms in June. And Hyatt Place Bloomington will open another 172 suites in August. In total, more than 400 hotel rooms are being added this year in Monroe County.
Hyatt Place Bloomington General Manager Charlotte Tyer says White Lodging management company is opening the two downtown hotels.
“I know White Lodging is very strategic in where they develop their hotels. But definitely running into that urban market for revenue opportunity. I think they just see the opportunity here in Bloomington long-term. IU is growing, Bloomington is growing and as we see I-69 develop and complete, I think we’ll see a lot of development as well,” Tyer says.
A new downtown certified technology park is also in the works.
Monroe County Convention Center Expansion Put On Hold
Monroe County Convention Center Executive Director Talisha Coppock says the Bloomington Monroe County Convention Center seemed on track to expand last year, with plans to double its size and bring in an additional 1,000 guests per week.
“What we find over the years is, they’re here and they’re ready to expand and they can’t wait for us.”
But after hearing complaints from a number of residents, county council members elected to hold off on raising the food and beverage tax to fund the expansion.
“I guess one of the messages that would’ve been good to stress more is that there are a lot of individual projects that come together that make an overall community. This was one project – it’s not the answer to everything but it was certainly a good one to help keep the momentum going,” Coppock says.
So the land the convention center corporation bought on both sides of the current building sits vacant while Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan says they look for a new funding mechanism.
“We saw what happened with the last proposal, then there was an effort go to the legislature for expanding the Innkeepers Tax which did not really stand much of a chance, and didn’t, I don’t think it even got a hearing so I don’t know what the county is looking at doing right now in terms of funding mechanism but I still think it’s a downtown amenity,” Kruzan says.
New hotel owners say they’re not worried about the convention center expansion and say regardless, there is a need for more hotel rooms in Bloomington.
“They need hotels. That’s part of it,” says Tyer. “They can’t expand if they can’t get the business and they can’t do the businesses if there’s not enough hotels in the market for people to stay at so they’re definitely excited at the convention center that they’ve got another hotel in the market bringing in more revenue, more tax revenue for the city.”
A recent study showed Bloomington’s hotel occupancy rate over the past 11 years was 62 percent. Hyatt Place Bloomington’s Charlotte Tyer says that number isn’t necessarily low.
“In our business it’s all about RevPar, revenue per available rooms. So we look at what those drivers are. Certainly graduation is big, but we can’t build a hotel just for graduation and there’s other times a year where it’s just busy, there’s just high demand for whatever is going on at IU whether it’s football events or parents weekend or other things like that and then there’s still convention business that comes into the area. There are some huge name companies such as Cook and Crane.”
In that same study, the RevPAR – or revenue per available room – has gone up, from $47.13 in 2000 to $69.56 in 2010.
Hotels Become More Community-Focused
So Mayor Kruzan says he’s not worried about saturating the market with empty hotel rooms. In fact, he says, the model for hotel development is changing.
“The most recent hotel developers came to visit with us last week, talked about they’re not interested just in a hotel for room use, they’re interested in being a community center and if it’s a Kirkwood located hotel, it would be ideal that you would have amenities in the building whether it be a restaurant, bar or rooftop gardens… things that would be attractive to local residents and not just your out-of-town guests.”
SpringHill Suites developers showcased this strategy during their grand-opening. Wicks says they hope featuring local artists during their ‘ArtNights’ will help them connect to the community.
“I would say right now we’re focused on creating the right environment for Bloomington – the right convention center and I think once everybody kind of looks at what would be appropriate we’ll have the right thing happen for everyone.”
The latest hotel proposal is planned for Kirkwood and Lincoln streets. It could potentially add another 140 rooms. The project is up for site plan approval during the Bloomington Plan Commission’s July meeting.