The Jaxson Logo Perspectives The Jaxson on Jacksonville Today

Opinion: What hotels can do for Downtown vibrancy

Published on November 23, 2021 at 10:47 pm
Home2 Suites rendering

A new Home2 Suites in Brooklyn is the latest hotel project moving forward in Downtown Jacksonville. With more hotels in various stages of planning, it’s time for Jacksonville to embrace the positive impacts these developments can have on the vibrancy of urban neighborhoods.

Home2 Suites in Brooklyn

Proposed Home2 Suites hotel site plan

When the new Home2 Suites in Brooklyn opens its doors, the six floor, 100-room hotel will do more than just give out-of-town visitors another place to spend the night: it will also provide a much-needed boost to Urban Core restaurants, retailers and other businesses.

Founded in 2009, Home2 Suites by Hilton is an all-suite, extended-stay hotel with a contemporary aesthetic and mid-level pricing. Home2 Suites typically include “lifestyle-focused amenities,” like community spaces, laundry, and fitness areas. The Hilton-branded chain has seen considerable growth since its founding and is the fastest-growing brand in Hilton company history. 

The Brooklyn project is spearheaded by Kelco Management & Development and Corner Lot Development Group. It will replace an overgrown surface parking lot on a desolate stretch of Brooklyn’s Park Street. In addition to the 10,720-square-foot hotel building, the development includes space for a restaurant at the southwest corner of Park and Rosselle streets with outdoor seating along Rosselle. The hotel will be limited-service, meaning it will offer fewer amenities than a full-service hotel like the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. The project is expected to cost $17.31 million.

 Hotels and urban vibrancy

A Hilton Homewood Suites built in 2015 helped contributed to the rebirth of Pittsburgh’s popular Strip District.

The Brooklyn Home2 Suites is just one of several hotels planned or proposed for Downtown Jacksonville. What’s happening in Jacksonville isn’t unique – hotels are popping up in the downtown areas of communities of all sizes. It’s time for Downtown Jacksonville to embrace the trend because, like residential units, hotels are a major, tried-and-true strategy to help revitalize downtown districts.

Hotel guests are essentially new wallets in the city, spending money and visiting our cultural attractions and special events. The economic benefits of hotels are numerous: They create jobs, generate additional property tax revenue, and add life by replacing surface parking lots. Furthermore, visitors tend to spend money at local restaurants, gas stations, shops, special events and other nearby businesses on a daily basis. According to the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), hotels contribute over $1 billion to the Northeast Florida economy every year.

* Hotel guest spending – $1 billion

* Hotel properties – 220

* Hotel guestrooms – 21,518

* Hotel Jobs – 23,818

* Wages and salaries – $1 billion

* Total taxes – $486 million

Originally built in 1979, the San Antonio Marriott Riverwalk is one of several hotels that helped turn San Antonio’s Riverwalk into a major destination.

Perhaps the most significant impact, however, is the ripple effect that occurs when a hotel opens in a downtown area. Janesville, Wisconsin, provides a recent example. The Cobblestone was the city’s first downtown hotel when it opened in 2019, and its positive effect on local businesses and street-level vibrancy was immediate. 

“When visitors stay overnight, they spend twice as much as a day-trip visitor,” says Errin Welty, downtown development account manager for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. “They eat more meals in the community, go out for entertainment in the evening and shop at downtown retailers.” 

According to Welty, there are also intangible benefits to downtown hotels. “If you’re a major corporation located downtown and you’re bringing in clients, you can really benefit from having a hotel in close proximity,” she says. “It makes it easier to recruit potential employees and entertain customers when a hotel is nearby. If guests have to travel out of town or back to the highway, it significantly lessens the overall experience of their visit and could make a business less competitive.”

Downtown hotels: costs and benefits

Rendering of the proposed Home2 Suites hotel

To get off the ground, the developers of the Brooklyn Home2 Suites are seeking $2,385,219 in cash incentives from the Downtown Investment Authority. While the DIA board ultimately voted in favor of granting some incentives, the agency staff report had recommended rejecting the incentives. Among the criticisms offered in the report is the claim that Home2 Suites could negatively affect existing hotels’ vacancy rates.

This claim gives us at The Jaxson pause. For one thing, another hotel means another option for visitors, which in turn means more customers for local businesses – the goal of everyone hoping for a more vibrant Downtown. For another, the claim fails to take into account the fact that Home2 Suites isn’t a direct competitor to many of Downtown Jacksonville’s existing hotels. The new project is an extended-stay hotel, which caters to visitors needing lodging for longer periods of time. Accordingly, the units are suites, offering more space than most hotel rooms and different amenities such as kitchens. 

Today, Downtown Jacksonville has just two extended-stay hotels, the Residence Inn by Marriott in Brooklyn, and the Homewood Suites by Hilton in the Southbank. But Home2 Suites offers a different level of service than those two.The brand’s primary competitors are Town TownePlace Suites by Marriott and InterContinental Hotel Group’s Candlewood Suites, neither of which have locations in Downtown Jacksonville. 

Other options for business travelers, like the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, are full-service hotels that offer an increased level of amenities and luxuries. Because they have higher overheads and larger staff, they come with higher price tags. Home2 Suites caters to travelers seeking fewer amenities and cheaper prices. As such the new hotel provides an option that isn’t available in Downtown Jacksonville.  

The DIA clearly understands how important hotels are for Downtown revitalization, considering they provided incentives for the Residence Inn by Marriott just two blocks away from the Home2 Suites site and approved a massive package for Shad Khan’s Four Seasons hotel project in June. Looking across Jacksonville’s peer cities, places like Nashville, Charleston and New Orleans receive major boosts from business travelers, tourists and other visitors. When it comes to restoring Jacksonville’s Downtown, creating an environment where several hotels can survive and thrive should be embraced as a major goal.

Editorial by Ennis Davis, AICP, Bill Delaney and Mike Field. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com, Bill at wdelaney@moderncities.com and Mike at mfield@moderncities.com.

Bill Delaney’s new book Secret Jacksonville, a Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure is out. Order a signed copy at thejaxsonmag.com/books


Sign up for the Jacksonville Today newsletter

Your local weekday newsletter for news and ways to get involved in Northeast Florida.