Why is the new Rite-Aid being promoted as a huge benefit for the City of Butler? Once Rite-Aid moves from its current location, the city will have another empty retail space on Main Street. How is that beneficial? Is it beneficial that the Centre City project is putting pressure on City Council to increase the taxpayers’ debt by at least $3 million to design, build and operate a parking garage?
Regarding the parking garage planned mainly to accommodate the Springhill Suites: Have any of the members of council or Mayor Maggie Stock read the feasibility studies that have been done for the hotel? Or are they relying solely on the rosy synopses they’ve been given during briefings by the Redevelopment Authority?
The most recent study commissioned by the developers assumes an occupancy rate of 68 percent in 2018. This occupancy rate is higher than the average of all hotels/motels in the county for any of the past 13 years. The occupancy rate for hotels in the Butler City area (which includes the Conley Resort on Route 8 South and the new Fairfield Inn in Slippery Rock) is slightly over 56 percent. The “assumed” occupancy rate seems overly optimistic unless Butler sees a big increase in overnight guests within the next few years.
Much is being made of the fact that newer hotels/motels have higher occupancy rates than older ones. The study states that the occupancy rate of the most recently opened hotels/motels in the county is between 70 and 80 percent. However, those hotels/motels benefit greatly from their locations. One is in Slippery Rock, a popular destination because of the college and proximity to the Grove City Outlet Mall. Four are in the Cranberry area. Why was the Cranberry area, at the intersection of two interstate highways, even included in this study? As was pointed out in a Butler Eagle article earlier this year, a major reason for the decline and eventual demise of Butler’s historic high-end hotels was that major highways bypass city.
Another area of concern is that, although the most recent study takes into account the Holiday Inn Express currently under construction in Butler Township, it ignores the Hampton Inn which will also be built in Butler Township. Both of these hotels will be operational before the Springhill Suites. The study projects that the Butler market can support an additional 51,000 occupied room nights by 2016. If that number is divided equally between the three new hotels, the Springhill Suites will be well short of the 68 percent occupancy rate projected by the developer.
Most troubling to me is that the city is moving forward with plans to build the parking garage without having an agreement in place with the hotel regarding the number of, and reimbursement for, parking spaces that are to be provided for hotel guests.
I am not opposed to the Center City project or the hotel. But I am cynical about the benefits and consequences of adding more debt onto the backs of city residents, property owners and businesses.