The University of Connecticut certainly has grown in the past decade, but can the area near campus support a second hotel?
The developers of the massive, Storrs Center development think it can, and they are seeking local approval for a 100-room, Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott. If approved, construction of the four-story, hotel could begin in the spring and be ready for guests in a year.
Howard Kaufman, managing member of Tuxedo, N.Y.-based LeylandAlliance, the project’s master developer, told me that a hotel was long a possibility for Storrs Center. But for years, it was unclear if there was enough demand for a second hotel, he said.
In 2001, the 100-room Nathan Hale Inn & Conference Center opened less than a quarter mile away from Storrs Center. UConn didn’t finance the $10 million construction of the Nathan Hale Inn, but leased land to the developer and will take over the property after that.
In addition, there are another 87 rooms at the Best Western hotel five miles away in Mansfield Center. The hotel did not immediately return a telephone call this morning seeking comment.
The campus’ growth, the development of Storrs Center and the prospect of building a research park all justify a second hotel, Kaufman told me. More visitors will be coming to campus as a result, he said.
“UConn is becoming a more diverse university town,” Kaufman said. “Now, there are a lot of reasons to stay overnight.”
The $220 million Storrs Center, on the southern edge of campus across from E.O. Smith High School and Mansfield town hall, has already added 322 apartments and nearly 75,000 square feet of retail space, with plans for more.
The hotel would cost an estimated $10 million. If approved, it would be constructed in an area just north of the existing Storrs Commons.
Kaufman said the Fairfield Inn & Suites is a limited service hotel with fewer amenities. Nathan Hale is full service with a restaurant, pub and conference space, he said.
Those differences won’t necessarily mean a lot because both hotels would be competing for guests that have, at best, been inconsistent in volume, Brian Wells, Nathan Hale’s general manager told me.
“The market would end up being shared at levels not desirable to either,” Wells said.
Wells declined to disclose Nathan Hale’s occupancy rate, but he said it was likely the Fairfield Inn & Suites would have similar room rates as Nathan Hale. Typically, the rates range from $129 to $179 a night, depending on season and availability, Wells said.
“The big client is the university and that’s why [Nathan Hale] was built, Wells said.
UConn does typically commit to space at Nathan Hale, but that fluctuates from year to year, Wells said.
UConn declined to directly comment on the hotel proposal for Storrs Center.
“UConn is the a member of the Mansfield Downtown Partnership and is very supportive of Storrs Center, but we don’t generally comment on their discussions with potential tenants,” spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz said.
However, the downtown partnership has endorsed the hotel plan. The partnership is a coalition of town, community groups and the university.
LeylandAlliance must seek approval for the hotel because zoning for the development does not currently allow a hotel to be constructed. A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 3.