Developer to consider new Warner Robins hotel

mstucka@macon.comMarch 10, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- A developer from Dallas, Texas, will fly in this week to see if Warner Robins’ Commercial Circle area is ripe for the city’s long-dreamed-of hotel and conference center.

Gary Lee, executive director of the Redevelopment Agency, said this is the first time a developer has taken enough interest in the concept to come look at the site.

“We’ve been talking about this for a while now,” Lee said after Monday’s RDA board meeting.

Lee said he’s working to update an earlier feasibility study done by Flint Energies. The hotel and conference center is proposed for where the current recreation center is located, on Watson Boulevard between City Hall and Commercial Circle, which is planned to serve as the city’s downtown.

Lee told the RDA he’s eyeing other business opportunities besides Robins Air Force Base, the area’s largest employer. A Base Realignment and Closure Commission is expected to be called in 2017. If Robins were to close, the effects on Warner Robins and the surrounding area would be devastating.

“What we’re trying to do is create jobs and opportunities,” Lee said. “We’re trying to diversify. ... It frightens me that all my eggs are in one basket.”

To that end, Lee also arranged for a presentation by Tim Fenbert, director of government relations for the Southern States Regional Center in Atlanta. Fenbert suggested foreign investors could play a role in such a hotel.

Fenbert said the federal government’s EB-5 program -- which grants expedited visas to foreign investors -- could provide substantial funding toward a project. The program’s largest use? Hotels and conference centers, Fenbert said.

The foreign investors typically provide 20 to 40 percent of a project’s financing, so bankers still need to be at the table, Fenbert said. The investors typically invest about $500,000 each after an economist certifies their money will create about 10 permanent jobs.

Separately, the RDA board was told work on Commercial Circle to upgrade sidewalks, curbs and drainage is progressing, with somewhat less than half of the $150,000 budget spent so far. Some work is on hold until the forecast calls for several days of clear weather. Other sidewalk improvements are stymied by the owner of a burned-out T-shirt shop, who didn’t accept the city’s offer of fair-market value for the sidewalk in front of the store. Mayor Randy Toms said he’ll approach the owner.

“I don’t like that. I want to finish that -- right,” Toms said.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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