Sanford developers switch plan from multifamily to hotel for downtown site

GrowthSpotter contributor

A local firm that originally planned to build 100 apartments in downtown Sanford is switching gears, proposing a new Choice Hotels-branded development on the site. 

Located at 200 W. 1st St. two blocks west of the heart of downtown Sanford, the three-story hotel would have 60 to 75 rooms, with possibly a handful of suites on the top floor.

First Street Station LLC, an affiliate of Sanford-based Suncor Properties, Inc. undertaking the project, has secured a commitment from Choice Hotels to build a Comfort Inn on the site, said principal Ron Semans.

"Choice has a Comfort Inn & Suites product, but we have not decided if we're going to add suites to this project," he told GrowthSpotter

The limited-service hotel would not include food or beverage service.

"There's more than a dozen restaurants, four breweries and several craft cocktail and beer bars within a five-minute walk from the hotel," Semans said.

GrowthSpotter first reported in August 2016 that Wilson Center LLC – the predecessor to First Street Station LLC – planned to build 96 one- and two-bedroom apartments with a mix of first-floor retail on the site.

Since that time, three factors have led Semans and partner Bob Horian to focus on a hotel rather than multifamily for the site.

First, the Sanford City Commission in May approved nearly $13 million in incentives for the Heritage Park project that will bring 235 apartments, as well as retail, restaurant and office space to downtown. "We didn't feel the need to compete with that project, and feel this is an opportunity to serve a different need downtown," Semans said.

Second, the imminent demolition of a 1960s-era hotel at nearby Marina Island will leave a hole in the local lodging market. Originally built as a Holiday Inn, the 100-room hotel was operating independently as the Monroe Inn and regularly drew 80 percent occupancy, Semans said. 

Third, a new 6,000-square-foot event venue recently opened six blocks south of the proposed hotel site and is expected to drive demand for hotel rooms. Called Venue 1902, the event space is located in Seminole County's first high school.

"We've booked multiple weddings and corporate events each month for the next 18 months," said Lissa Lessard, owner of Venue 1902. "As of now, anyone needing hotel space has to go to Lake Mary."

Semans said he does not believe his project will compete with plans to renovate the old Mayfair Inn near Fort Mellon Park. Built in 1925 as the Hotel Forrest Lake, the Mayfair project would cater to a more upscale market and those seeking lodging in a historically significant hotel.

"The developers for the Mayfair have said they want to have the most luxurious hotel in Seminole County," said Semans. "Our rates will be $80 to $100 a night, so the two hotels will serve different markets."

Financing for the Comfort Suites project, estimated at $7.5 million, will come from traditional bank loans and private equity. Semans said his firm is still negotiating with several banks.

CPH, Inc. is civil engineer on the project. Semans said affiliate Suncor Construction Inc. will serve as general contractor for the project and will take bids for subcontractors once funding is finalized. 

The project will still need to go through Sanford's planning and zoning process. Semans expects to break ground by the end of 2018.

Semans and Horian were awarded last year a $100,000 grant from Sanford's Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) toward their construction costs for the originally proposed 96 apartments and live/work space. 

That grant was conditional on construction starting at the site by January 2018. The developers met with the CRA this week, and were approved for the $100,000 grant to be moved to their new hotel project on the site, with a deadline extension to January 2019. 

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