FAYETTEVILLE — Plans for a new downtown hotel can now move forward.
The City Council on Tuesday voted 7-1 to approve an amended letter of intent with Reindl Properties for a seven-story, 134-room hotel next to the Upper Ramble where a civic plaza is planned across from the Walton Arts Center.
The plaza, which is part of the ongoing cultural arts corridor work, will replace the existing 290-space parking lot once construction is complete on a nearby replacement parking deck.
The arts corridor is funded by $30 million in voter-approved bonds. The city last fall began an RFP process to find a development partner for a building that voters were shown on the southern end of the plaza. Shortly after that, negotiations began with Fayetteville developer Brian Reindl, who owns the Metro District building just south of the civic plaza where Cork & Keg, Rolando’s Restaurante and several other businesses are located.
Fayetteville architect Rob Sharp is heading up design of the hotel, while South Carolina-based Windsor Aughtry, which specializes in projects based in college towns across the southeast part of the country, is the hotel consultant. Fayetteville’s C.R. Crawford Construction is the general contractor. Estimated cost of the development is $50 million.
The council first discussed the proposal on Oct. 18, but tabled the resolution after concerns were raised by City Attorney Kit Williams over language in the letter of intent.
Public comment at both meetings was focused on whether a new hotel would have an adverse affect on downtown parking.
The hotel as planned would include up to 45 basement-level parking spaces, with guest parking handled through a valet system, and employees parking off site.
Justin Clay, the city’s parking manager, said the district typically approaches about 90% capacity when it comes to parking, especially on the weekends and during events. But, Clay showed the council a map which highlighted several areas where cars could be parked using a valet system, including a 55-space lot used by the Police Department that will soon be available, and the city’s 100-space employee parking lot near the square that is mostly empty at night and on weekends.
Public comment focused on parking
Of the 13 people who spoke against the proposal on Tuesday, 10 mentioned parking as a top concern. Many of those opposed were members of the Walton Arts Center Council, which recently sent a letter to arts center patrons and the media asking people to speak at Tuesday’s meeting.
In the weeks approaching the council’s first discussion, the Walton Arts Center and a group of downtown business owners announced plans to hire a North Carolina-based consulting firm to study parking in a concentrated area of the downtown district.
Anne O’Leary-Kelly, chair of the Walton Arts Center Council, said Tuesday the hotel proposal should be tabled until the private study is completed sometime in December.
Bo Counts, owner of Pinpoint on Block Avenue, said his philosophy is that hotels don’t take parking away from businesses, they bring customers in. He said he has zero parking spaces designated for his business and welcomes guests from the Graduate Fayetteville hotel around the corner. Counts said a new hotel near Dickson Street will be as good for that area’s businesses as Graduate Fayetteville is for those around Block Avenue.
Todd Martin, who owns Theo’s restaurant on Dickson Street, said parking is already a problem and while he’s not opposed to a hotel in general, he’d rather see an alternate plan that includes underground parking for hotel patrons.
Councilmember D’Andre Jones said while some have suggested waiting for the results of the Walton Arts Center’s study, he was ready to move forward with the hotel project. Jones said he’s not sure what can be gleaned from the private study that hasn’t already been uncovered in the city-initiated studies that helped guide the development of the arts corridor vision.
Councilmember Teresa Turk, who was the only person to vote against the proposal, said she’d like more time to consider the idea.
Jones asked Turk what she hoped to learn by continuing to put off the decision.
Turk listed a number of requests, including a property assessment of the land where the hotel would be built, a cost-benefit analysis of whether a hotel is a good choice for the area, and data about other hotels’ occupancy rates.
Councilmember Mike Wiederkehr said he hasn’t heard any concerns that can’t be addressed in the development process. He said his only concern is with the implied binding agreement in the letter of intent with Reindl.
“I would be completely comfortable if we amended the letter of intent as our city attorney has advised us,” Wiederkehr said.
City Attorney Kit Williams has sent several memos to the council outlining his opinion that the letter of intent carries too much weight.
Councilmember Sonia Harvey asked Williams if anything could be added to the letter to make it unenforceable. Williams said he’s drafted language that could be attached to the letter to remove the implied binding agreement.
The council voted unanimously to amend the language to include Williams’ recommended wording.
Before the final vote, Mayor Lioneld Jordan the city needs new hotels and he’ll support anyone who wants to build one.
“I will support this hotel, and I would support another one,” said Jordan. “I would support eight new hotels if someone wants to build them.”