Thursday, June 20, 2013
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PORTLAND — One of the city's largest landowners hopes to build a 131-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel on the edge of the Old Port.
A proposed hotel at 311 Commercial St., Portland, would feature a restaurant at the corner of Commercial and Maple streets. Hotels guests’ cars would be parked by valets at nearby lots owned by J.B. Brown & Sons.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
This dirt parking lot at 311 Commercial St. in Portland, owned by J.B. Brown & Sons, is being considered for a six-story, 131-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel. The hotel proposal is the third in the area since this summer.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
The six-story building at the corner of Commercial and Maple streets -- now a one-acre parking lot -- would include a 7,000-square-foot restaurant and 14 rental units, says the landowner, J.B. Brown & Sons.
"We're very excited about undertaking this project and continuing the growth of the Old Port heading west," said President and CEO Vincent Veroneau. "It's a nice use of a parcel that has been a gravel parking lot for 25 years."
The estimated $17.5 million project is the third hotel proposed in the area since this summer. A 123-room hotel is planned near the Portland Harbor Hotel on Fore Street, and a 110-room boutique hotel is proposed at 390 Congress St., the former Portland Press Herald building.
If all three are approved, about $38 million could be invested in 400 new hotels rooms. That makes some hoteliers in Portland and surrounding communities nervous, said Greg Dugal, executive director of the Maine Innkeepers Association.
The new hotel rooms would likely put pressure on older, independently run hotels, Dugal said, and those associated with national brands would likely invest heavily to ensure success.
"All these additional rooms will have a strain on the Portland market," he said. "I think the jury's out on who will be affected and when they will be affected."
In the last three years, nearly 300 hotel rooms have been added in downtown Portland, with the construction of the 120-room Hampton Inn and the 179-room Residence Inn by Marriott.
Barbara Whitten, president and CEO of the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau, has said she would like to see occupancy rates average 70 percent before more rooms are added. She said the average annual occupancy rates have been 58 percent to 62 percent for decades.
"I am an advocate for a strong, healthy hotel climate before adding new rooms onto the market," she said last month. "And that hasn't been the case."
This summer was unusually good for Portland's hotels, Dugal said, due mostly to good weather, pent-up demand from previously frugal tourists, and the closure of the Eastland Park Hotel for a $35 million renovation project, which will add 58 rooms.
At times, no rooms were available, sending rates even at mid- to lower-end hotels into the range of $300 a night, Dugal said.
Still, he said, "there's a lot head-scratching" in the industry over the string of hotels being proposed in Portland.
Veroneau said he is optimistic that Portland's tourist market can support all of the new hotel rooms.
"I think hotel visitors are a growing pie right now," he said. "And the Marriott flag, coupled with our location, puts us in a good position to capitalize on the growth of the hotel market."
The project will have to be reviewed by the city's Historic Preservation Board and Planning Board. Veroneau said he hopes to have approvals by the end of this year, begin construction in the spring and open in May 2014.
The hotel would closely resemble the Hampton Inn at Fore and Franklin streets, built by New Hampshire-based Opechee Construction, which would build the J.B. Brown project.
According to planning documents, the restaurant would be on the corner of Commercial and Maple streets and feature an outdoor patio rimmed by granite benches. A brick sidewalk would be built along Maple Street, and the concrete sidewalk on Commercial would be widened and rebuilt with brick.
There would be parking on site for residents and some guests, but hotel guests' cars would be parked by valets at nearby parking lots owned by J.B. Brown, Veroneau said.
In addition to parking lots, J.B. Brown owns six office buildings, nine warehouses and seven mixed-use properties in Portland.
On Monday, the Planning Board is scheduled to consider the boutique hotel proposed at 390 Congress St. and hold a public hearing on the seven-story hotel proposed by the East Brown Cow development firm near the Portland Harbor Hotel.
Staff Writer Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:
“All these additional rooms will have a strain on the Portland market. ... I think the jury’s out on who will be affected and when they will be affected,” said Greg Dugal of the Maine Innkeepers Association.