John Revelle's plans to open a boutique hotel in an historic building in Downtown Sanford is a goal that has long been championed by city supporters. But if he is to deliver, he'll need to overcome several obstacles.
Revelle, who lives in Maitland and formed Sanford Hotel Group LLC in February, met with Sanford city planners Tuesday morning to discuss initial plans to convert the six-story Wells Fargo building at 101 E. 1st St. into a hotel.
With the property under contract, his plans also include building a multi-story parking and retail structure on the adjacent lot, with two additional floors of hotel rooms that would connect on the south side of the nearly 100-year-old bank building.
The new structure is projected to stand eight stories, which immediately presents Revelle with one of several challenges, in addition to financing and market demand.
During the pre-application meeting, Sanford Historic Preservation Officer Christina Dalton said city codes don't allow new construction higher than four stories in the historic commercial district. Dalton noted, however, that since 250 of the 380 spaces in the parking garage would be set aside for public parking, an argument could be made that the new structure provides a benefit to the public.
The city attorney would have to research the issue, Dalton said. Ultimately, the City Commission may have to decide if the height would be allowed.
Commissioners would also have to determine what, if any, financial assistance the city would provide for the parking structure.
"A big part of making the numbers work on this deal is some sort of public-private partnership," said Revelle, who added he expects to tap into overseas investors and local lending institutions to finance the estimated $20 million project cost. The partnership could be in the form of cost-sharing or tax abatements, he added.
It's a partnership the city may be interested in pursuing. As GrowthSpotter reported in March, the city has been reaching out to local property owners in search of additional downtown parking.
The district's resurgence, coupled with the $50 million Heritage Park development that will add 235 residential units, has made parking a hot topic for downtown. In addition, the city recently inked two deals to lease private land for surface parking.
Revelle and one of his consultants, Jerry Mills of BHM Architecture, have met twice with Deputy City Manager Tom George, who is the point person for downtown parking.
Historic codes and financing aside, Revelle's biggest challenge is one that has bedeviled previous attempts to attract a hotel to Downtown Sanford – Is there sufficient demand?
Revelle has hired Hank Fonde, Jr., with CBRE Hotels Consulting to provide a market analysis of hotel demand in downtown. The report may be ready as soon as next week, Revelle said.
Twenty years ago, Sanford leaders pushed to build a hotel conference center on the banks of Lake Monroe. A lack of financing dashed those plans.
Then last year, Sanford Waterfront Partners LLC, the South Florida firm doing the Heritage Park project, considered a hotel as part of its development. Those plans were dropped after a study showed demand wasn't strong enough.
Since that study, the $27-million Seminole County Sports Complex opened and generating increased demand for rooms, and the Sanford Chamber of Commerce is developing a plan to promote beer tourism in downtown where six breweries are expected to be open by this time next year.
Gui Cunha, tourism manager for the Seminole County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said hotel occupancy for the 12 months from March 2016 to March 2017 is up 5 percent. More importantly, Cunha said ADR (average daily rate) is up 7 percent.
"We're seeing demand increase throughout the county," Cunha told GrowthSpotter. "We don't comment on the feasibility of specific projects, but a boutique hotel in Downtown Sanford that takes advantage of the city's unique history would be the type of property that has the best chance of success."
Revelle said if there is enough demand for his idea, he plans to secure one of the "soft brands" in the hotel industry, like Hilton's Tapestry Collection or the Tribute Portfolio by Marriott. Soft brands are boutique properties that allow individual hotels to have their own name and image apart from the corporate manager or franchiser, while providing a global reservations system, guest loyalty programs and management expertise.
The downtown building that Revelle has under contract offers a number of unique opportunities for a soft brand. It was built in 1922, nine years after the creation of Seminole County, by the George A. Fuller Co., which built a number of iconic buildings in New York City including the Flatiron Building, the Plaza Hotel and Macy's flagship store on 34th Street.
It was Sanford's first "skyscraper," and for most of its 95 years a bank has been on the first floor. Long-time locals refer to the building as the "Sanford Atlantic Bank," while newer residents call it by whatever name results from the latest bank merger, which is currently Wells Fargo.