Multi-million dollar projects, such as the proposal to build a dog lodge on Jefferson Boulevard or a garage for use by contractors to store vehicles and materials on Post Road, in Pawtuxet have a way …
Multi-million dollar projects, such as the proposal to build a dog lodge on Jefferson Boulevard or a garage for use by contractors to store vehicles and materials on Post Road, in Pawtuxet have a way of attracting large turnouts at Planning Board meetings. Meetings can extend over days and attract people both in favor of and against the projects.
But, big dollar projects, even ones that promise to alter the city, don’t always mean hours of meetings and scores of people. That was the case last Wednesday at what was surely one of the briefest meetings in the annals of the city Planning Board. From the opening with the Pledge of Allegiance to a motion to adjourn was 12 minutes. Six of those minutes were devoted to the approval of minutes and some light banter. The remainder went to master plan approval of a project in keeping with the overall development of City Centre and the goal to transform the area across from Green Airport into a commercial and residential hub.
Planners granted a major land development project for conditional master plan approval for a 124-room, four story Echo Suites Extended Stay hotel on a two-acre vacant lot on Post Road once owned by the New England Institute of Technology.
In the audience, apart from this reporter and Lauren Slocum, president and CEO of the Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, were two representatives for Gold Coast RI LLC that are embarking on building a similar-sized hotel - WoodSpring Suites - on the adjoining property. Joseph Brennan, attorney for Gold Coast told the board that difficulties in securing electrical and plumbing subcontractors had delayed the commencement of work, but he assured work should begin soon.
Brennan also told the board, Gold Coast has abandoned thought of a connecting corridor between the two hotels. He said there would be ample sidewalk space for pedestrian traffic between the hotels and Chelo’s Restaurant that will adjoin WoodSpring Suites to the north. He said the parking exceeded the 124 spaces required by zoning and that the only exception sought is to the 40 foot height restriction. The building would be 50 feet, an exception that the Zoning Board of Review needs to approve. The variance is scheduled to be heard by the Zoning Board of Review on Oct. 10.
The board viewed renderings of the building and an aerial with a demarcation of the rectangular lot where it will be built on wall mounted screens.
Board chair Phil Slocum looked out at the room of empty chairs.
“Are there any questions from the public?” The question seemed superfluous.
Chuckling, he explained the question was for the purpose of the recording of the meeting.
Slocum turned to the board for a motion and comments.
Setting the tone, board member Ashley Cullion called the development a “massive improvement” over the long vacant lot of weeds and broken concrete and asphalt remnants of prior developments. It was noted the hotel is in keeping with the overall development plan for the intermodal zone and City Centre to the north of the Airport Connector.
Aaron Packard, of Gold Coast Properties could not be reached for comment on why the company is seeking to build a second hotel when it has yet to begin construction on WoodSpring Suites to give Warwick a total of 18 hotels.
Reached Friday, Kristen Adamo, CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention and Visitors Bureau offered some insights.
The simple one word answer is “demand.”
“Warwick has recovered (from the pandemic) far more quickly in terms of rate and occupancy,” she said adding that “we’re out performing (pandemic) 2019 levels.”
Data provided by Smith Travel Research shows Warwick hotel occupancy was 66.4 percent for 2022 as compared to 63.9 percent in 2019. The rate for January through July of this year is 63.4 percent.
“The ADR (average daily room rate) is really driving it,” she said. The rate was $106.09 in 2019. It bumped up to $118.19 in 2022 and so far this year is at $126.30. She sees leisure travel as driving demand as well as Warwick’s central location, access and proximity to Newport and Providence with higher room rates. Also contributing is Warwick’s Crowne Plaza with it meeting rooms and facilities, which Adamo said has become a “mini convention center” for groups and organizations from across the region.
Business travel that was a pillar for the travel sector prior to the pandemic has not rebounded. Adamo points out that businesses have adjusted to Zoom meetings, employees working from home and technology that has cut out much of the face-to-face contact prior to the pandemic. She’s not seeing an immediate return to business travel.
Perhaps Packard and Gold Coast are at the vanguard of the return of business travel.
The online site for WoodSpring Suites under the headline, “Spend more time, not money on business travel” reads, “At WoodSpring Suites - we're all about empowering people to do more - including meeting in-person and spending time nurturing business relations. Our extended stay hotels were designed to provide home-like comforts for guests—including business travelers—who need a comfortable place to work, rest, and recharge for several nights or longer.”