Three “major hotels” are in the works to be built in Richmond Hill, their developer announced Friday.
RS Hospitality plans to construct “two major mid-scale luxury hotel franchises” off Interstate 95’s exit 87 and later add a third hotel at exit 90, Richmond Hill-Bryan County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Brianne Yontz said.
The first of the two hotels planned for the intersection of Ponderosa Road and Highway 17 “should be out of the ground shortly,” RS Hospitality President Jitan Patel said.
He expects it to be operational in six months to a year.
“As soon as that one is up and running, we can start construction on the next one,” Patel said.
The developer anticipates that those two hotels will combine to have 182 rooms, according to Yontz. The franchises that will operate them have not yet been finalized, Patel said.
The third property planned is an extended-stay hotel with about 80 rooms off I-95’s exit 90. A timetable for that has not been announced other than that it is in RS Hospitality’s “long-range plan,” Patel said.
The Richmond Hill Convention and Visitors Bureau is “thrilled about the news of new hotels,” Executive Director Christy Sherman said.
Sherman quoted figures from 2013, the most recent data, that Bryan County’s tourism industry generated $39.5 million in direct tourist spending, created $1.38 million in local tax revenues and supported 360 jobs. Each Bryan County household received $238 in tax relief as a result of the taxes generated by tourism economic activity, she said.
“In addition to creating new jobs, the hotels will attract more business and leisure travelers, bringing many other economic benefits to the community,” Sherman said.
RS Hospitality already owns two hotels in Richmond Hill: Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn. The company was planning several years ago to build additional hotels in the area, but the economic downturn intervened.
“These properties have been secured since 2007,” Patel said. “This has been in the works for a long time.”
And now is the right time to rekindle the project, Patel said. He reasoned that “I-95 is back in full force” because of factors such as an upturn in the economy and lower gas prices.
“Things are looking a lot better,” he said. “We said (we would build) down the road and, hey, we’re here.”
Traffic from I-95 will be just one avenue for the hotels to draw guests, according to Development Authority of Bryan County CEO Anna Chafin. The recently opened Caesarstone plant and other potential industries that locate in the nearby Belfast Commerce Centre also will bring visitors, she said.
“In fact, I think the hotel additions in the area will help us as we sell Richmond Hill and Bryan County as a growing, vibrant community with new development,” Chafin said.
Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler hopes the opening of the new hotels will nudge some of the existing ones in the city to renovate. He pointed out that some hotels along Highway 17 are starting to show their age.
“If we can continue to bring some new ones in, it’ll put the pressure on the old ones to upgrade and look the way they should,” Fowler said.
A sign that Richmond Hill has a need for more rooms, according to Yontz, is that business is good at the two hotels RS Hospitality already has in the city. The Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn “stay pretty full,” she said.
“The more hotel rooms we have, the more visitors who will spend their dollars here,” Yontz said. “So it’s a win-win for everyone.”