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Developer of Madison mixed-use project mulls hotel, conference center

By TED CARTER

Developers of a yet-to-be-announced mixed-use project in Madison County have agreed to consider adding a hotel and conference center to their plans.

The Madison County Economic Development Authority and business leaders have been pursuing the hotel and conference center the past couple of years, after having originally raised the idea 13 years ago before concluding costs and projected revenues were too far apart. The new effort has received a favorable reception from Madison County supervisors but backers have had little to report the past 12 months in the way of progress on locations and private-sector partners for the project.

Until now.

Developers are studying how and where to put a hotel and accompanying 60,000 square-foot conference center on the land in the south part of the county on which they want to build their project, said Ken Oilschlager, who took over in June as interim head of the Madison County Economic Development Authority after the April resignation of Tim Coursey.

Oilschlager offered little information on the site, other than to say it is “not necessarily” next to the interstate. Situating the hotel and center near the interstate had been a priority for the primary organizations behind the effort – the Madison County Economic Development Authority, MCEDA, and Madison County Business League and Foundation.

For now, they have decided to let the developer of the commercial project take a crack at making the facilities a reality, Oilschlager said.

“This came along parallel to the efforts” for the hotel and conference venue, he said.

“The folks involved were interested in taking a look,” Oilschlager said. “The whole idea is to get a facility in place” rather than bog down in the question of who does the project.

Oilschlager, a veteran economic development professional who worked for the Madison County agency at its inception in the late 1970s, said working with a commercial developer is not something MCEDA typically does. But, he added, “Our role in any sort of commercial endeavor is to provide support and information and any other assistance we are asked for.

“They approached us and asked for a lot of economic data,” he said, and added one of the principals is a Mississippian.

Also provided, he said, was a study of the feasibility of a conference center. The analysis and report by Johnson Consulting, a Chicago firm that specializes in the hospitality and meetings market, concluded the project is feasible but would be in the red its first decade.

The center would end its first year with expenses of $625,000 leading to an operating deficit of $452,000; $753,000 in expenses bringing a loss of $129,000 by the fifth year; and $852,000 in expenses resulting in losses of $146,000 in the 10th year.

Total spending by users of the center is projected at $12 million in year one, $19 million in year five and $22 million in year 10, the study found.

On the use side, Johnson projected 200 meetings and conferences the first year, a number that would grow to 289 the fifth year and remain through the 10th year.

Along with the meetings and conferences, exhibitions, banquets and entertainment events would generate attendance of 70,840 the first year, and 102,650 the fifth year through the 10th year, Johnson Consulting says.

A similar study by Johnson Consulting 13 years ago showed the county needed a conference center but the income-and-expense projections made prospects for success borderline.

Madison County, whose population has surpassed 100,000 residents, recently received a vote of confidence as a hotel market with Kerioth Corp.’s opening of a four-story, 125-room Marriott Courtyard near the Baptist Healthplex at Highland Colony Parkway and Mississippi Highway 463. The Marriott Courtyard will be just the second hotel inside the city limits of Madison.

Madison “is underserved from a hospitality perspective,”said Clint Herring, Kerioth president and CEO.

The hotel will be a customized version of the new Marriott Courtyard Generation 6 hotel.

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