Houston & Peach

Big addition could be coming to the Georgia National Fairgrounds

A proposal has been approved to build a hotel at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter, to be located on the north side of the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building.
A proposal has been approved to build a hotel at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter, to be located on the north side of the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building. wcrenshaw@macon.com

A hotel could be coming to the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter.

Proposals are being sought to build a hotel with at least 100 beds next to the Miller-Murphy-Howard Building, which has 65,000 square feet of climate-controlled space for conferences and other events.

Stephen Shimp, executive director of the fairgrounds, said an adjacent hotel would create a true conference center and attract events that currently go elsewhere.

He said many groups seeking a conference location have expressed interest in the fairgrounds, but they typically want a hotel attached to the conference area. That keeps attendees from having to spend time driving back and forth between the hotel and the conference.

“It would definitely give us a tool to attract more conventions,” Shimp said. “There is really a lack of quality hotel rooms in the area.”

He said it also would help nearby hotels because there would be conferences that need more rooms than the fairgrounds hotel could provide. The Telegraph visited three hotels near the fairgrounds, and managers working at two of them said they were not familiar with the proposal and had no comment. A third, who would not identify himself, said he knew about it and didn’t like the plan.

“How would it help me?” he asked. “It would be competition.”

Robert Smith, assistant city manager for Perry, said a fairgrounds hotel would be a big economic boost for the city.

“It would be huge,” he said. “They would be able to attract a greater variety of conferences and trade shows.”

He said a conference center also would help restaurants and other businesses that cater to visitors.

“It’s something the mayor and council have been focused on attracting to the city for a while,” Smith said.

Shimp emphasized that the fairgrounds is only seeking proposals at this point. It doesn’t mean a hotel will be built. He said the proposals, which are due Nov. 16, will be reviewed, and a determination will be made as to whether to go forward.

He said the developer would pay for the construction, and the fairgrounds would lease the land in a long-term agreement. Each proposal would spell out the terms that the developer would be willing to accept.

In March, the fairgrounds hired a market-research firm to conduct a study on the potential of a 100-bed hotel on the property. Although it does not reach a conclusion on whether a hotel would succeed, Shimp said he believes the numbers support the development. A link to the study is included in the request-for-proposal notice.

The study assumes the development of a 100-bed Hyatt Place hotel. Shimp said that is only for the purposes of an example for the study, and there has been no proposal from Hyatt.

The study recommends the hotel have a restaurant, bar/coffee shop, fitness room and swimming pool. It estimates the construction cost to be $17.5 million.

With an assumed opening in January 2020, it projects 61 percent annual occupancy in the first year, rising to 69 percent within five years. The average room cost in 2020 is estimated to be $143.

The average occupancy in the market area, which includes 12 hotels, was 68 percent in 2017. Of that, 58 percent comes from business travelers, 31 percent from leisure guests and 11 percent from groups. Hyatt Place hotels nationwide averaged 77.6 percent occupancy in 2017.

Built in 1990, the Georgia National Fairgrounds & Agricenter is a sprawling facility known mostly for the annual Georgia National Fair that this year runs Oct. 4-14. The fair alone draws around 500,000 people, and nearly that many more come to the fairgrounds annually for about 200 events held throughout the year, including livestock shows, dog shows, trade shows and more.