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W192 Development Authority weighs partnership with UCF experts to advise hoteliers

W192 Development Authority weighs partnership with UCF experts to advise hoteliers
Consultants from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management evaluated the Continental Inn to help make the business more profitable. (TripAdvisor)

Members of the W192 Development Authority are struggling with how best to utilize UCF's Rosen College of Hospitality Management experts to boost hotel business along the corridor.

The authority has $375,000 in its 2016 budget for Rosen's consulting team to provide management advice and draft business plans for struggling hotels. Each study costs $15,000.

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But the college's first effort at delivering critical analysis of one local motel - the Continental Inn - was met with mixed reviews, as detailed last week when the authority's subcommittee reconvened with members of the evaluation team and hotel owners.

The Rosen consultants made several recommendations, including closing the hotel until the owners had renovated all of the guest rooms and eliminating weekly rentals. They also suggested improving the hotel's online presence and marketing.

Kevin Patel, who owns the 36-room hotel, said he felt insulted by the report and noted that he had already implemented several of the changes outlined in the business plan.

Authority member Peggy Choudhry said the group needs to determine if the district's limited funds would be better spent on a facade grant program to help business owners improve the exterior appearance of the properties, versus the detailed analyses offered by the Rosen consultants.

"I truly believe that not every hotel needs this report," Choudhry said.

Facade improvement programs typically offer a 50 percent match to business owners in the redevelopment district for exterior improvements, such as painting, awning replacement and lighting improvements.

Erik Berger, an adjunct professor at the college, said finding ways for hotels to better market their existing properties would be more effective than offering modest grants to improve curb appeal. "Every hotel can always benefit by having someone else with a lot of experience provide recommendations that in the long run will make them more profitable," he said.

Showing a hotel owner how to improve his reviews on TripAdvisor could prove more valuable than a fresh coat of paint, he said. "You can have the best looking hotel in the world, but it all comes down to how you're managing it and how you're treating the guests."

He noted that with a business plan prepared by Rosen experts, the hotel owner would be more likely to qualify for bank lending to do major interior renovations.

With the group unable to reach consensus, Authority Director David Buchheit told GrowthSpotter the subcommittee would have to schedule another meeting to further weigh the benefits of keeping the flexible spending program, as originally envisioned, or offering facade grants. The two programs don't need to be mutually exclusive. If there's less demand for consulting work, some of the flexible spending dollars could be shifted into another program, he said.

The authority has more than $2.8 million in revenue estimated to come in to its Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) in 2015, and has earmarked $1 million for a sign replacement program.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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