Officials Break Ground On Convention Center Hotel

By Sherri Crawford, posted Mar 10, 2016

A rendering shows what the 186-room Embassy suites Hotel will look like once it opens next to the Wilmington Convention Center. (Rendering courtesy of Becker Morgan)

With the groundbreaking of a Wilmington Convention Center-adjacent hotel, officials say the five-year-old center can meet more of its revenue generating potential.

What’s been a missing piece of the convention center’s attraction puzzle, the coming $36 million Embassy Suites Hotel, is expected to help bring additional visitors to the city. The hotel is expected to attract more – and larger sized group – conventions to the area.

“We were limited on the size [of the] group we could appeal to without more hotel rooms ‘nearer’ the center,” said Susan Eaton, general manager of the Wilmington Convention Center. “Currently, our target audience has averaged 325 [attendees] with a total of 400 hotel rooms for the duration of the event. Now … we will be able to offer 851 available sleeping rooms total, which really could mean an estimated total of 595 committable sleeping rooms to convention groups.”

The ground-breaking ceremony last month came after the project’s future was tied up in a court dispute. Sotherly Hotels, owner of Hilton Wilmington Riverside, had challenged the city’s agreement to sell the land at a below-market rate to Harmony Hospitality Inc., which is building the Embassy Suites. In June, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld a ruling in the city’s favor on the deal.

The city council initially approved selling the land to Harmony Hospitality about two years ago.

“This is a huge step forward for the city,” Ernest Olds, principal with Becker Morgan Group, the architecture and planning firm that designed the hotel, said about the recent ground breaking. “Finally, a true convention center hotel, that will create new jobs, bring hundreds of new visitors to our city and serve the expanding business needs of the community.”

Not having a hotel next door has hampered Wilmington’s convention business, tourism officials said.

“Based on inquiries over the past five years, the CVB is aware of at least 113 groups lost that cited not having a convention center hotel was a reason for not booking. We believe that number is probably greater when you consider that meeting planners were already aware of our lack of a convention center hotel and did not inquire,” said Connie Nelson, spokeswoman for the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Based on 113 groups that over a five-year period would have produced about 10,000 rooms per year, the CVB estimates that the economic impact in lost group business is approximately $1 million per year. This conservative figure reflects lost group business that we are able to track and does not include leisure rooms.”

She said the total economic loss of losing out on those types of groups that wanted a convention center hotel was hard to determine since it’s unknown how many crossed Wilmington off their list without even making an inquiry.

Ultimately, more hotel rooms and larger-sized business groups means more visitor spending, officials said. The additional downtown hotel will also help level the playing field, as the Wilmington Convention Center competes with centers in other markets.

“Currently, Wilmington competes for group business with the likes of Raleigh, Greensboro, Concord, Grove Park Inn, Charlotte, Pinehurst Resort [and] Greenville (North Carolina),” Eaton said. “Each of those other meeting destinations already has a resort hotel or convention center with an adjacent/attached hotel.”

Eaton said a lack of an adjacent hotel is one reason that some conventions have chosen to bypass the Port City. That has equated to lost revenue for the city as well as area businesses.

“There are many groups that have a preference for the hotel room conveniently located in the area for the meeting, exhibits, meal [and] function space – Wilmington has been the only city without that ‘under one roof’ offering,” she said. “With the adjacent hotel, guests will not have to leave the hotel property to go to the WCC for their meeting, or get on a shuttle, nor drive and re-park their vehicle.”

Harmony Hospitality is constructing the 186-room, Embassy Suites Hotel, which will include a full-service restaurant, rooftop bar, pool and 6,167 square feet of meeting space. City officials said that once the hotel is operational, “the city is estimated to receive more than $800,000 a year in revenue.”

Additionally, once open, hotel revenues are projected at $12.6 million, with 207 jobs created. The hotel is expected to open in the spring of 2017.