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(Karen Wink / American Press)

Getting hotel next to Civic Center real possibility now

Last Modified: Saturday, January 12, 2013 5:44 PM

By Eric Cormier / American Press

In 2007, Lake Charles voters made a decision that could end up being the most important catalyst for commercial development along the seawall.

Voters overwhelmingly decided to implement an urban renewal plan that spring.

Before the election, mayoral administrations that were interested in supporting policies that would foster private development along the area from the seawall to North Beach were hindered. Laws required public votes, which could be costly both financially and politically.

Mayor Randy Roach took office at the beginning of the new century and found himself contending with the need for a hotel near the Civic Center. That effort went into high gear around 2003 when a local group was put together to nurture the process.

City Councilman Marshall Simien participated in that effort before he was elected to office. He remembers that a group wanted to open a hotel with a major industry flag, but the deal did not come to fruition due to financial constraints.

Nearly 10 years later, Simien thinks the current plan that could lead to a Hyatt Hotels and Resorts corporate family facility being built next to the Civic Center are a real possibility.

“I think the bigger problem back then, which is now gone, is that even in 2003 a group would have had to get the vote of the people first to develop. That was not the efficient way to develop,” he said.

From a governmental policy and economic development perspective, one of the area’s most devastating moments in 2005 provided the area a chance to make wholesale infrastructure changes.

“After Hurricane Rita, we had the vote and that made things a lot easier. Plus, since then, we’ve got a more developed hospitality industry with gaming and conferences coming in. The Civic Center was essentially retrofitted after the hurricane and now is the time to really see what we can do as a city,” Simien said.

New Orleans-based HRI Properties is the company the city has been in negotiations with to build a $19 million, 150-room hotel on the north side of the Civic Center.

Hal Fairbanks, HRI’s vice president of acquisitions told the American Press on Friday that talks between the company and city on development agreements, land issues and other aspects of the deal are progressing.

“Lake Charles needs a hotel to help the Civic Center live up to its potential,” he said. “Also, a new hotel would help increase room occupancy in the market.”

Fairbanks said the city is poised for an economic boom, which is something the development company found interesting.

“This city has an excellent opportunity for expansion. We want to be an integral part of that. Where there is a will, there is a way,” he said.

City officials want development along the 60-plus acres of land along the seawall, but it is thought that a hotel next to the Civic Center is the missing link needed for economic prosperity in both the lakefront and downtown districts.

The Roach administration — which was interested in a hotel prior to 2005 — is even more vested in the concept, which is part of the overall development plan that was incorporated from the work of urban planning company Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company in 2007.

“The area around the Civic Center is the most valuable land of the downtown and is currently underutilized,” the company wrote in a report. “The two blocks immediately to the west of the Civic Center would be prime locations for first-rate hotels enjoying views on one side and direct attachment to the Civic Center on the other. Between the hotels, a gap would allow important rooms in the Civic Center to retain their view of the lake.”

In 2011, PFK Consulting in Houston provided City Hall with a hotel market survey that focused on the Civic Center area. Researchers concluded “the proposed lakefront downtown hotel is projected to receive substantially more than its fair share of demand from the group segment due to its location adjacent to the Lake Charles Civic Center. The property is projected to receive more than its fair share of demand from the independent traveler segment due to the subject’s select service nature and proximity to downtown Lake Charles.”

Simien thinks the city is in a no-lose position regarding the hotel prospect.

“We’ve been through the process. There are a lot of pieces in place. If nothing else, the Civic Center’s name may be wrong for marketing purposes, based on what a Hyatt representative told me. What we have, they said, is a conference and performing arts center. If the hotel gets done, we probably need to change the facility’s name to the Lake Charles Conference and Performing Arts Center.”

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