Developer suggests Warner Robins help fund hotel-conference center

mstucka@macon.comMarch 13, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- A Texas developer told Warner Robins officials that hotel and conference centers like the one he’s considering here have reinvigorated downtowns elsewhere.

“It’s a catalyst. It’s an economic driver for the city,” said Steve Moffett, president of Encore Public/Private.

Moffett proposed a public-private partnership, which could combine city financing with private sector money to build a hotel and conference center between City Hall and Commercial Circle on the site of a recreation center.

Such public-private partnerships average about 40 percent in public funding, and 60 percent in private funding. A typical project would cost $45 million to $50 million, he said. That suggests Warner Robins would probably ante up about $20 million for such a project.

Moffett said similar projects he’s worked on, such as those in Sugar Land, Texas, and Norfolk, Va., have transformed those cities.

The Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency hosted Moffett for a two-hour presentation.

A study of a hotel and conference center in downtown Warner Robins done 10 years ago showed such a facility would be feasible, said Jimmy Autry, spokesman for Flint Energies.

Flint Energies partnered with other organizations to fund the study, which reviewed a conference center with 600 to 1,000 seats, enough to hold statewide conventions and other large meetings.

Autry said the feasibility study would probably need to be redone, likely at a cost of about $20,000.

Moffett said he’s in talks with two other communities besides Warner Robins about such projects.

This isn’t the first recent pitch to the Warner Robins Redevelopment Agency about the hotel.

On Monday, an Atlanta-based financier suggested foreign investors might be interested in helping pay for a Warner Robins hotel and conference center.

Moffett said a different division of his company also offers access to foreign investors.

Moffett said in most public-private partnerships, private investors own the hotel and its land, while the city government owns the conference center. In every situation he’s worked in, he said, hotel occupancy taxes were strong enough to finance the conference center’s costs.

Moffett described a planning, design and construction process that would take about two and a half years to complete.

Thursday’s meeting was attended by about 40 people, including Mayor Randy Toms and two members of City Council. Toms said the idea was worth investigating.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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