The bar on metro Augusta’s hospitality industry has been raised.
The swanky new Hyatt House, downtown Augusta’s first new business-class hotel in nearly a quarter-century, opens April 4. An official ribbon-cutting for the 104-room hotel is scheduled for May.
The $25 million hotel on the 1200 block of Broad Street was developed by DTJR LLC, a family-owned partnership run by John Engler, who also is vice president of McKnight Properties. The mid-rise property, which has its own parking deck, was designed with extended-stay business travelers in mind; most rooms have full kitchens and living rooms.
And it has a public-access rooftop bar, which appears to be the gotta-have accessory for a downtown development these days; the newly opened Crowne Plaza North Augusta has one, too.
The Crowne Plaza’s bar gives views of the Augusta’s skyline, the Savannah River and about half the field at SRP Park. The upscale five-story hotel in North Augusta’s booming Riverside Village development also features 11,000-square-feet of high-tech meeting/conference space and a 120-seat wood-fired grill restaurant, the Salt+Marrow Kitchen.
The 180-room hotel opened in January and was developed by Atlanta-based NorthPointe Hospitality Management (which also owns The Partridge Inn). Its guest beds have integrated LED lighting and multiple electrical outlets and USB ports on the side.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the improvements to the city center’s largest hotel complex: the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center.
In addition to a newly opened pedestrian bridge over Reynolds Street, the 372-room riverfront hotel just capped off a three-year, multimillion-dollar renovation of all guest rooms and suites, as well as updates to the hotel’s meeting areas and public spaces.
Augusta Marriott General Manager Darryl Leech says the new rooms and suites reflect the brand’s new design motif.
“Travelers really like the new guest rooms with laminate flooring, large flat-screen televisions and modern showers,” he said.
Longtime locals will recall how the Marriott complex – along with the Augusta Riverwalk – helped generate the foot traffic that enabled downtown to overtake the Washington Road corridor as the city’s premier bar, restaurant and entertainment zone about 25 years ago.
If you’re a regular follower of this column, you’ll remember reading about two other downtown hotel proposals: a 132-room Marriott-affiliated hotel at the corner of James Brown Boulevard and Reynolds Street by Augusta-based Azalea Investments; and an undisclosed hotel brand on the 1100 block of Broad Street by South Carolina-based Naman Hotels.
Both of those projects are on long-term hold.
Still, growth of the market’s hospitality industry is palpable.
Earlier this month the 92-room Fairfield Inn & Suites opened at 3021 1/2 Washington Road. The Marriott franchise, owned and managed by of Warner Robins, Ga.-based PeachState Hospitality, features “a curved porte-cochere” (aka: covered porch) and an “inviting glass entrance” to usher guests inside. Rates begin at $129 per night (prices are subject to change, ahem, during the first full week of April).
Meanwhile, one of Augusta’s older hotels, the Ecco Suites (formerly Jameson Suites) at 1062 Claussen Road, has been rebranded as an upper-midscale BW Signature Collection hotel by Best Western Hotels & Resorts.
The property’s 110 suites, designed for leisure and business travelers, feature “a modern décor” with standard in-room amenities such as coffee makers, microwaves and refrigerators. There’s also a complimentary hot breakfast and heated outdoor pool.
“It’s truly an exciting time to join the Best Western family,” said Matthew Weber, the Ecco Suites-BW Signature Collection general manager. “Our modern and spacious hotel (allows) guests to experience all that Augusta has to offer.”
In all, more more than a dozen hotels have opened in metro Augusta during the past five years, pushing the region’s lodging inventory above 7,000 rooms, about half of which are in Richmond County.
A Georgia Department of Economic Development analysis of county lodging tax collections estimated Augusta hotel revenues grew 29.5 percent from 2012 to 2016. The study is a little dated, but still impressive.
As of February, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Augusta-Aiken’s hospitality and leisure industry employed 27,200 people, a gain of nearly 6,000 jobs since 2014.
SOMETHING’S MISSING HERE…: The Augusta Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Augusta Sports Council’s monthly tourism report estimates visitor spending in Augusta during April to be around $334,616.
Before you blow a gasket, keep in mind the report reflects only sporting events, conventions and meetings that received planning or site-selection assistance from the CVB or the Council. That’s why the impact of the Masters Tournament isn’t listed; the Augusta National Golf Club requires no such assistance.
The CVB stopped guesstimating the tournament’s economic impact years ago (tournament attendance is never disclosed), Others have put the figure in the ballpark of $120 million.
Personally, I think that figure is more conservative than Pat Buchanan. There are just too many non-reported transactions and under-the-table deals – such as home rentals – going on during the tournament, not to mention economic activity from the week before and after. Somebody has to pay to set up and tear down all this fancy stuff throughout the city.
SPEAKING OF FANCY STUFF: The members-only aviation company Wheels Up flew 60 of their King Air 350i turbo props to Daniel Field during last year’s tournament. This year, the New York-based company expects to fly in even more.
But that’s not all. Wheels Up members also get access to the company’s hospitality house, where they can enjoy complimentary breakfast and store all their personal belongings (read: electronic devices) before heading to the course. The company says members typically make their way back to the hospitality house in the late afternoon to enjoy live music and food and beverages while watching the coverage on TV.
That “house,” by the way, is built from the ground up at the airport just for the week.
On Thursday night of the tournament, members can head to a private residence for the Wheels Up “exclusive nighttime party,” which the company says “is always the talk around Augusta.” After the party, around 10 p.m., members will head straight to Daniel Field or (if flying on a jet) Augusta Regional Airport for a ride back home that night.
This is one of those instances where membership, truly, has its privileges.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: The Dollar General store next to the Belk on Knox Avenue in North Augusta is closing. Clearance signs are in the window, but a store employee told me she was unsure the exact date of the closing, only that it would be in “mid-April.”
HEY BIG MAN, LOAN ME A DOLLAR: Rival dollar store chain Family Dollar recently had a “grand re-opening” of its newly renovated store in Hephzibah on Windsor Spring Road. Basically, the new store stocks more stuff.
“In addition to providing everyday low prices and a broad assortment of merchandise, we have expanded our selection of food, beauty and essentials, household products and seasonal items,” Family Dollar spokeswoman Heather Brignati said in a news release.
HOW ABOUT AN ACTUAL GROCERY STORE?: The Augusta Economic Development Authority’s recently hired retail recruiter, Timothy McFalls, told the crowd at Augusta Commissioner Sammy Sias’ 2nd Saturday Community Breakfast that he is in talks with a grocer to locate a new supermarket in south Augusta.
He said the company, which he declined to name, was in “final negotiations” to invest $750,000 into a 30-employee store. McFalls also referenced a new restaurant planning to open in the Sitel- and Food Lion-anchored Colony Plaza shopping center at the corner of Windsor Spring and Peach Orchard roads, as well as a “large auto-related entity” looking to invest $1.2 million and create “30 to 40 jobs.”
McFalls was hired in November to attract commercial development to underserved parts of Richmond County – primarily south Augusta, the urban core and east Augusta – by working with city officials and real estate agents to get properties development-ready.
McFalls said he is focused on major traffic corridors and south Augusta’s largest eyesore: Regency Mall.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to do something with that,” he said of the long-vacant property, which is owned by a New York real estate investor. “It’s going to be difficult. Somebody has an apple that’s rotten and they want to sell it to us as an apple that’s fresh and red and shiny. We’ve got to let them know, you’ve got a rotten apple. Either throw it away or eat it.”
ALMOST GOLD: The CSRA Business League this past week celebrated its 49th anniversary with a banquet at the Augusta Marriott. The nonprofit assists women- and minority-owned small businesses.
THERE’S A NEW DEALER IN TOWN: I read a survey not long ago that said women make up only 18.5 percent of auto dealership employees. Of those, only 8 percent were employed in “key positions.”
That’s not the case down at the new Waynesboro Chrysler Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, where Beth Grant is running the show. The Grant family also owns the Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership in Thomson, Ga.
“We are excited to be opening another location to better serve our customers in Waynesboro and the Augusta area,” Grant said of the 225-car dealership, which is at at 480 Highway 25 North.
SO URGENT, URGENT, URGENT: Aiken Professional Association and Aiken Regional Medical Centers recently opened an urgent care center in Graniteville off U.S. Highway 1.
The Aiken Urgent Care facility at 110 Sasanqua Road will be open seven days a week. It has eight exam rooms, digital imaging technology and family medicine professionals who can “treat a wide range of conditions such as cuts, sprains, fractures and illnesses,” said Gennia Jennings, market director for Aiken Professional Association.
The center also will offer health and wellness services, sports physicals and occupational medicine services.
Stay safe out there, folks. We have a lot of visitors coming to town next week.
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or [email protected].