By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
Continued oil and gas activity, paired with increases in tourism and convention travel, are driving up occupancy rates in Enid trade area’s hotels and motels. Developers are taking note of the increased traffic and the opportunity to build.
Enid and surrounding areas have seen a recent surge in hotel development interest, including one new and one planned hotel in Enid and a planned hotel in Hennessey.
Developer Saqib Anwar recently announced plans for a 50-room Sleep Inn & Suites in Hennessey.
A new 88-suite SpringHill Suites recently opened in Enid, just west of Walmart on West Garriott. That property was developed by Dr. Atul Patel’s Aston Management Co. of Edmond, which has developed nine other hotel properties, including the Enid Best Western Inn.
The opening of SpringHill Suites increased Enid’s lodging by more than 10 percent, from 800 to 888 rooms.
At least one more hotel is planned for Enid.
A developer, listed with Enid Metropolitan Area Planning Commission as Red Hot Chillis LLC, plans to build a Country Inn & Suites at 710 Mill Run, behind Aldi and east of Lowe’s.
MAPC approved the site in June for that project, and city water and sewer lines have been run to the 1.7 acre property.
Project architect William Freels, of Freels and Associates, declined to comment on specifics of the hotel’s accommodations. He did say the hotel is being built in response to an increased demand for lodging that spreads beyond Oklahoma to Texas and Kansas.
“I’ve done some development on the East and West coasts in the past, but they’re just dead as a doornail right now,” Freels said.
Here, however, Freels said he’s been kept busy from Dodge City, Kan., to north Texas.
“I know there’s just a need for lodging in this part of the country right now,” Freels said.
Jim Hopper, president and CEO of Oklahoma Hotel and Lodging Association, said increased demand for lodging in Oklahoma is being driven by a variety of factors, including increased oil and gas business.
“Obviously, the economy in Oklahoma is doing well compared to the rest of the country right now, and a lot of that has to do with the activity in oil and natural gas industry, and that’s driving demand for lodging,” Hopper said.
But, he said, the growing need for lodging is due to more than just oil and gas drilling.
“A lot of it is tied to the economy, and not just the oil and gas industry,” he said. “Here in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, there’s a big increase in demand for lodging, and that’s been more convention-driven.”
Enid Regional Development Alliance Executive Director Brent Kisling said Enid also is well-situated to take advantage of increased convention and business traffic.
He noted the addition of convention and meeting space in the city with the new event center and renovated Convention Hall associated with the Enid Renaissance Project, meeting space at the newly-constructed SpringHill Suites, the CDSA nonprofit center currently being renovated downtown, Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center and Leonardo’s Discovery Warehouse.
“We’re continuing to see growth in this part of the country, and we’re growing our capacity to host conventions and business meetings,” Kisling said. “If you’re going to have that meeting space, you have to have hotel rooms to support those people.”
Room availability may become more of an issue if more rooms aren’t added, especially if projections for increased convention traffic hold true.
“Right now, our occupancy rates in Enid and across northwest Oklahoma are through the roof,” Kisling said. “Anyone who’s had family or colleagues come to Enid, and tried to find them lodging, knows it’s been a challenge.”
Kisling said developers’ studies have shown the city still could handle two to three more hotels of 60 to 80 rooms each, or an addition of 120 to 240 more rooms. And, he said, that development is sustainable in the long term, even if the oil and gas industry does slow down.
“Enid is a community investing in the visitor right now, and I think we’re going to continue to see more people come here to spend the night and spend some money,” he said.
Enid Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Marcy Jarrett said Enid was seeing increased demand for lodging well before the oil and gas industry picked up pace.
“Before all the oil and gas business arrived, we knew from the research the hotels already were at 65 to 75 percent occupancy,” Jarrett said. “The travel business already was there, and the oil and gas business just increased that and boosted the occupancy.”
Jarrett said local hotels still have rooms available, but they’re less available during the week, when business travelers need them most.
“We do have availability for smaller groups, especially around the weekends,” Jarrett said. “But, there’s no question; if more hotel rooms are available, it opens up opportunities for Enid to go after larger groups.”
Jarrett said a key factor in filling the new Renaissance event center with large conventions and events will be the city’s ability to attract a hotel to the downtown area.
In March 2011, the city put out a request for proposals for a hotel chain to develop a 144-room hotel in conjunction with the Renaissance Project. Under the provisions of the proposal, the city would provide a pad for the hotel, but the hotel development and construction would be a private venture.
Jarrett said bringing that plan to fruition “needs to be a really high priority.”
“Having a lodging property attached to the new meeting facilities at the event center would go a long way towards meeting the needs of the business that will be coming to that facility, and it would be a major selling point for the facility,” she said. “The event center already is garnering a lot of attention, and having a hotel located in that close proximity would be the final piece of the puzzle.”
No specific deals have been announced for a downtown hotel, but the city still is pursuing the plan.
“The city of Enid understands that a hotel is essential to our downtown and will continue to exercise due diligence in seeking the best possible long-term outcome for a hotel in Enid’s downtown,” said city of Enid director of public relations Becky Hodgen. “We recognize that this is an active and dynamic time for our community. Due to all the economic activity, the market has responded and hoteliers are actively pursuing our downtown community.”