Floyd County owns The Forum in downtown Rome.
The Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce took Rome and Floyd County officials to see the Cool Springs Conference Center on one of it’s inter-city exchange trips in October 2011.
The Samson Developers group, which includes Roman David Doss, Duke Hospitality, architect Rick Standard and Hogan Construction, has until Jan. 2, 2013, to close on its bid for the West Third Street property owned by the city of Rome.
The deal has been evolving over the course of the past 12 months.
Doss said his group has a letter of commitment from a major hotel chain, but he did not want to disclose whom that was with until the board of directors gave formal approval to the deal when they meet within the next 60 days.
Doss said the entire deal was complicated by Rome hotelier Anil Patel’s announcement several months ago that he had been granted a franchise by the Marriott Corp. to put a Fairfield Inn at the corner of East First Street and Turner McCall Boulevard.
Back in early October Floyd County Commissioner Garry Fricks indicated that the potential hotel management group had expressed some interest in taking over management of the The Forum.
The idea would be to have one entity responsible for marketing and scheduling major conferences that could be drawn to Rome.
Floyd County Manager Blaine Williams said the county has not received any specific proposal from the partnership.
“As a local government we don’t want to preempt any good ideas, but we just haven’t seen any,” Williams said.
“We’ve met with the partnership, and we’ve talked with them about the vision for the operation of the hotel, but there’s been no specific proposal to evaluate or comment on.”
Williams said the county is flexible, and if surrendering management of The Forum was something that benefits the community and is a good deal for the taxpayers the county has an open mind.
“The Forum was meant to be an economic generator for downtown, and that’s what its reason for being is. If there is another way to achieve that we’re certainly open to hearing that,” Williams said.
Doss said his group is in the process of developing a memorandum of understanding to be presented to Floyd County officials with respect to having the hotel group assume much of the responsibility for management of The Forum.
“The city and county decided to
go together with Marriott and do a joint venture,” Anderson said.
“The city and county would pay for the convention center and we would tie it together with this motel, and we gave them the operating rights to run our convention center.”
Williamson, now in his third term as mayor of the county, said that to help develop Williamson County in the manner that progressive leadership envisioned, they were willing to assume some risks. “We share in the profit, and we share in the losses on a monthly basis,” Anderson said. “They give us a monthly statement, whether they’ve made money or whether they’ve lost money. I will tell you we’ve made more money than we’ve lost, even during the last several years.”
The mayor said the joint hotel/conference center has made a huge difference for the business community.
Tennessee does not have an individual income tax, and the lion’s share of revenues are derived from sales taxes, making growth of the business community all the more important.
Franklin is a lot like Rome in one big respect. It is considered the medical hub of central Tennessee much like Rome is considered the medical center of Northwest Georgia.
Community Health Systems Inc., the Hospital Corporation of America and AIM Healthcare Services all have major facilities in Franklin. The community is also host to a large Nissan plant.
Anderson even said he thinks the hotel/conference center has ultimately helped bring other hotels to the community. “If the Marriott’s full, there are enough places around now where they can stay,” Mayor Anderson said.
Doss said that giving the hotel operator management responsibilities for The Forum is important but not a deal breaker.
“I think by anybody’s measure The Forum has been underutilized and underperformed for 20 years,” Doss said. “I think with hotel management and the marketing it would bring, there’s an opportunity to enhance the convention business here.”
Many in Rome’s business community have clamored for a large hotel downtown to enhance the attractiveness of The Forum.
Williams said that he, former County Manager Kevin Poe and Rome City Manager John Bennett have all tried to get the Georgia City and County Managers Association to bring one of its annual functions to Rome in the past, but the lack of a hotel with a sufficient number of rooms and meeting facilities within walking distance had been a factor in not being able to bring the group’s fall meeting to Rome.
While a hotel on West Third would not be under the same roof with The Forum, the short walk across the Chief John Ross Memorial Bridge over the Oostanaula River would probably not deter many groups.
Comparing the operation in Franklin, a suburb of Nashville, to Rome would involve economies of scale. The proposed hotel in Rome would involve something slightly more than 100 rooms. The Cool Springs Marriott has 297. The Franklin property is situated approximately 15 miles south of downtown Nashville and less than 20 miles from the Nashville airport.
One advantage Rome would have involves seating capacity. The Cool Springs Conference Center has a total of 22 meeting rooms.
Its primary ballroom has theater-style seating for approximately 1,900. The Forum has 11 distinct meeting rooms, which like the Cool Springs facility can be configured in a number of ways. The Forum however could put close to 4,100 people in a theater-style-seating configuration.
The largest room at the Cool Springs Conference Center is the Champion Ballroom, which encompasses 13,559 square feet. The arena floor in The Forum in Rome includes 20,400 square feet of space.
Both The Forum and the Cool Springs Conference Center offer high-speed business Internet capabilities and offer unobstructed views in each of the major meeting rooms.
The hotel in Rome would sit atop a two-story parking deck on West Third Street. The parking facility would be accessed directly from West Third Street.
The first floor of what would most likely be a four-story hotel would be level with the top of the Oostanaula River levee.
Doss said that the proposed hotel in Rome would also include approximately 2,500 square feet of meeting space inside the building on West Third Street in addition to a full restaurant and bar.
That’s also something that local officials have been seeking for many years.
While city officials have been looking for specific amenities in a new hotel, Doss said that from his side of the development, he’d like to see the city keep the existing 16-court Rome-Floyd Tennis Center next to Barron Stadium as one of those things that would help keep the hotel full.
“I’m a huge proponent of the Tennis Center of Georgia at Berry College,” Doss said of a proposed complex near Mount Berry Square mall that still lacks funding.
“I think perhaps an interesting idea that they may want to look at is expanding the existing downtown facility if the funding is not available to do the large project up by Berry.”
Selling the West Third tennis center property is one of the things that has been considered by elected officials to get that property back on the tax rolls.
Tough conversations regarding the proposed deal in Rome have yet to be fully developed. Brent Poplin, manager of The Forum, said the building is now 18 years old, and it’s time for some upgrades. “It’s just a matter of having the time and money to get it done,” Poplin said.
Mayor Anderson in Williamson County said that early on there were a lot of tough conversations over the development of the joint project, but he could not be more pleased with how things have worked out.
“If you were rating on a scale from 1 to 10 the management and the working relationships, we’ve got a solid nine,” Anderson said.