The Hastings administration is having a feasibility study conducted for a new hotel project in uptown Hillsboro, according to a report delivered Monday at Hillsboro City Council’s May session.
Mayor Drew Hastings was absent from Monday’s meeting, but he provided a report read by council President Lee Koogler describing the study, with Hastings calling the study “an exciting new development” and “a needed first step in determining whether our market will support a new hotel complex and thus encourage developer investment.”
In the report, Hastings said the study “includes an Economic Impact Report that will show the temporary, ongoing and future money generated in Hillsboro and Highland County by the development.” The mayor wrote, “I believe, as do others, that this holds the promise of a much needed hospitality site and increased dollars to our city and county.”
Over the years, many in the business community and others in Hillsboro have expressed dismay that the city does not have a hotel appropriate for business travelers or other visitors who prefer higher-end accommodations and who often stay in hotels in neighboring cities when doing business in Hillsboro.
According to the scope of the feasibility proposal contained in a document from the Cleveland firm of H&LA (Hotel & Leisure Advisors) and requested Tuesday by The Times-Gazette, the study will address economic impacts of a new hotel, ranging from “temporary impacts (that) include jobs and revenues created from the construction of the facility, as well as related costs.” Permanent impacts “are generated by jobs created, ongoing revenues realized by service providers, and other sources,” according to the document.
Those conducting the study will gather and examine data, conduct interviews, provide analysis, including a financial analysis, provide a narrative report, and compile a complete economic impact analysis, along with identifying potential sites for the facility.
The proposal states, “The city, county and state will realize new tax revenues generated from incremental visitor spending, additional employment-related taxes, potentially reduced unemployment costs, and net returns realized through higher utilization of state operated utilities and-or other public services.”
The analysis will include interviews with local business owners and government development officials, as well as Chamber of Commerce representatives, according to the proposal. The feasibility study will be provided at a cost of $23,500, according to the proposal. If the project moves forward, Hastings has said he will seek investments from local businesses that will benefit from the hotel’s development.
According to H&LA documents, the company has conducted market analysis and financial studies since 1987 of more than 2,000 hotels and resorts and 400 indoor and outdoor waterpark resorts across the U.S. and Canada.
In another matter Monday, council, as expected, unanimously passed on its third reading a change to how the city bills water usage at multi-unit residential facilities and apartment complexes.
The issue involves the minimum water bill charged to city residents and an effort to apply the minimum charge to users who live in multi-units that are served by just one or two water meters, rather than a separate meter for each unit.
City officials said previously that rather than requiring owners to undergo the expense of installing meters in each unit, the new method – charging an extra $18 per unit – will mean everyone in the city is paying roughly the same minimum bill.
The subject was extensively debated at the April council meeting, with property owners and landlords claiming the change is unfair to low-income residents and a burden to owners. On Monday, no one in the audience addressed the subject.
Rebecca Wilkin, the chair of the Utilities Committee that recommended the change, said last month that the new billing plan treats all water consumers equally, requiring everyone to pay the same base rates.
Hastings agreed, saying last month that the current billing system is unfair to thousands of other Hillsboro residents who have long paid the full minimum each month. The mayor said the city is “capturing” a segment of water users who have “never been captured before.”
At that same meeting, Safety and Service Director Todd Wilkin told landlords, “The users of your buildings have an impact on our system. Right now, they’re not paying for that impact on our system.”
The city estimates reaping an additional $150,000 a year from the change, and Wilkin said last month that the city hopes to examine whether the minimum water bill can be lowered for all users, along with whether the city can provide residents with a third straight year of a moratorium on previously-scheduled rate hikes.
Meanwhile, council learned that the Hillsboro Community Improvement Corporation is recommending the demolition of the Colony Theatre to provide a parking lot where the back of the theater now exists and potential development in the front part of the property.
The letter, dated April 21 and signed by John “Buck” Wilkin, president of the CIC, was requested Tuesday by The Times-Gazette and states that after touring the Colony at the request of the mayor, “we were taken aback by the condition of the property, especially the said front part.” In the opinion of CIC members, the letter states, “the entire building has deteriorated beyond the point of renovation.”
Instead, the CIC is “willing to proceed with the demolition of the building, including the said front part, and the construction of a parking lot,” while taking suggestions for development of the front part of the building along North High Street.
Todd Wilkin said Monday that a walk-through of the building with an engineer and a demolition contractor will be conducted at noon Wednesday, and he invited council members and the public to participate. He said that when proposals from the engineer and demo contractor are received he will share the information with council.
In other matters, council:
• Heard the second reading of an amendment to the yard sale ordinance, with local resident Barb Cole expressing her opposition to it, saying that with a “heroin epidemic,” the need for a drug officer and the restrictions the amendment would impose, council should ask itself whether it “rules the citizens or serves the citizens.”
• Heard Todd Wilkin announce that this Saturday is Highland County Recycling’s annual tire and electronic collection day, taking place from 9 a.m. to noon at the Hi-Tec Center.
• Heard Joe Mahan, president of the Hillsboro Uptown Business Association, ask for better traffic enforcement, especially in regard to motorists who do not yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and drivers making U-turns.
• Heard Todd Wilkin announce that Seth McCoy was the city Employee of the Month for April, calling McCoy a “very dedicated employee.”
• Saw council member Claudia Klein show a new handicap parking sign designed for veterans and provided by Steph Roland of the local Support Our Troops organization, with signs planned to be located near the uptown veterans memorial and other places.
• Heard Todd Wilkin report that a civic service test was held over the weekend for a new police officer.
• Approved sign variance requests from Edward D. Jones company, the Scott House and Merchants Bank.
• Learned that Bob Lambert is the newest member of the Hillsboro Planning Commission, replacing Stephen Crouch, who resigned to accept an internship in Washington D.C., with Hastings saying in a written report that Crouch had been “a very positive asset to the commission and will be missed.”
• Learned from the planning commission report that member Tom Eichinger had researched the zoning code and found that the “grandfather” issue for existing uptown residential units “may not be a problem if council votes to prohibit first floor residential units in the Historic District G.” The commission will confer with the law director, according to the report.
• Passed various resolutions transferring or increasing funds, mostly routine, but including one for “unexpected and unannounced” appropriations needed for the Highland County Board of Elections, with city Auditor Gary Lewis expressing comments critical of the election board for not providing more notice.
• Approved a resolution authorizing Todd Wilkin to prepare and submit an application to receive fiscal year 2016 Community Development Block Grant program funds.
• Heard Lewis report that the city has $6.5 million on hand.
• And went into executive session to discuss “pending litigation,” according to Koogler, most likely in regard to a judgment in favor of former city employee Kirby Ellison, which the city has asked an appeals court to reconsider.
All council members were present Monday.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.