Levy has confirmed that the project will also include the first major renovation of the existing hotel in eight years.
“Once we finish the rooms over there, then we’re going to close this part down to revitalize what we have already,” said Hawthorn General Manager Gay Nichols. “It’s not going to take much because the hotel is still in outstanding condition.”
Levy said he has finally gotten a letter of commitment from an undisclosed bank, three and a half years after initially pitching the project to Wyndham and city leaders.
Nichols said she expects construction activity to start right after the first of the year.
“It’s not soon enough for me,” Nichols said. “We’ve got a waiting list book that we keep and keep up with it pretty close. Construction time has been estimated at approximately 10 months.”
For the year, the hotel is averaging a 77 percent occupancy rate.
“When we first opened, right before the economy started going downhill, we stayed booked all the time during the week,” Nichols said. “This year it’s really picked back up. We just can’t handle everybody that we want. We hope that we can say that after we get the other rooms.”
Levy won approval from Rome’s Historic Preservation Commission for conversion of the old Waterfront Grill restaurant into a two-story addition to the hotel in February of 2010. Since that time, Levy has been working to obtain financing for the project, which he originally estimated would cost $1.5 million. He still feels like the majority of the actual construction can be done for closer to $1.2 million, with the remainder of the funds utilized to furnish the new rooms and renovations to the existing rooms.
When Levy won approval for the project 20 months ago he said he felt like finding $1.5 million in financing for the renovation would be easier than finding $5 million for a much larger expansion of the hotel that his group had been looking at for several years.
The larger expansion would have involved construction of a freestanding building in the parking lot between the existing hotel and Third Avenue parking deck. The freestanding addition would have added a hundred rooms to the property.
At one point Hawthorn was essentially requiring that Levy add rooms to the hotel to hold on to the franchise. The current hotel has only 37 rooms.
“Being on the Franchise Association Board, I have a good working relationship with them, and they understand the banking situation,” Levy said. “They’ve been working with us.”
Levy said that Wyndham has done a preliminary analysis of the area and feels that the area will support an additional two dozen rooms. The addition to the old restaurant building would mean adding a second floor to the building, which would create about two dozen new rooms for the property.
Original plans called for 23 rooms, however Levy now says the floor plan involves a dozen rooms on the ground floor and a dozen on the second floor. Rooms on the ground floor will have balconies that overlook the Oostanaula River.
“That’s great news,” said Lisa Smith, executive director of the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I think it will be a nice shot in the arm for downtown businesses to have additional people overnighting, dining and shopping.”
The expansion of the hotel would also include two meeting rooms with the capacity for about 60 people each, according to Nichols.
The building had been used as a restaurant ever since the old Battey Machinery building was originally converted into an apartment complex more than two decades ago. The apartments were known as Rivers Place and the original name for the restaurant was The Landings.
Through the years it has also been known as Malone’s Bar and Grill, the Waterfront Grill and Bar, and most recently as Opi’s Buck and Duke Grill.
The questions remains, why has the property never been able to make it as a restaurant?
“Not being a restaurateur, I don’t know. I’m not in that end of the business, so I’ve never been able to understand why it never made it,” Levy said. “We put restaurants in there that wanted to do nightclub-type bars, and the noise level was just too high for our guests. I just can’t have that.”
Smith said she has wondered for years why a downtown with three rivers has never been able to support a restaurant overlooking the water.
“To me that was always the idyllic setting, especially right there at the confluence of the rivers,” Smith said.
As for the renovations to the existing hotel property, Levy said plans include an expansion of the kitchen and additional seating.
“It is a full hot-cooked breakfast, not a continental, but home-cooked food,” Nichols said.
She said that a small bar area will also be added for guests.
“Something that will be open to guests only, maybe two or three hours in the evening, after they came in from work or waiting to meet someone for dinner,” Nichols said.
Nichols said Levy is looking at replacing carpet in rooms on the second floor with hardwood, but that the third floor rooms would simply get new carpet. She said the project would mean the addition of at least four more housekeepers, an extra laundry person and probably two additional desk clerks.
The timing of the hotel expansion should coincide closely with the Urban Riverfront project that is now under way between Hawthorn Suites and The Forum. The area will become the permanent dock for the Joel Sulzbacher Roman Holiday tour boat. She feels like her sales and marketing team can take advantage of that.
“We’ll have something visible right here which we can show to them,” Nichols said.
Levy said the bank has done all of the due diligence work and that underwriters have approved the package and he has submitted the deposit for the financial package.
“You know, you’ve just got to jump through the hoops again,” Levy said.