Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Fairfield City staffbegins study to look at motel sites along Texas Street corridor

Article Last Updated: Saturday, Oct 22, 2005 - 10:19:14 pm PDT

City begins study to look at motel sites along Texas Street corridor

By Brian Miller and Karl Dumas

With recent talk about the abundant supply of hotel rooms in Fairfield, along with new hotels in the planning stages or under construction (four hotels totaling 331 rooms are pending), the demolition this month of the former 83-room Economy Inn on Auto Mall Parkway seems to have occurred at an appropriate time.

The long-term viability of the older motels in town, especially those along the West Texas/North Texas Street corridor, is of increasing concern.

While demolishing older motels is not necessarily the best answer, these properties may face increased challenges in surviving the changing lodging market.

With Fairfield's growth in the Cordelia area, newer larger and more modern hotels there are increasingly capturing more travelers from the older lodging properties in town.

There may be better potential uses of the relatively large, centrally located sites - especially given the increase interest in infill development and redevelopment.

The city of Fairfield has begun a study to look at motel sites along this corridor, and we are considering zoning ordinance changes to clarify the city's regulations pertaining to motels and hotels.

The Economy Inn was located at 2353 Auto Mall Parkway and contained a 23,000-square-foot building on 1.46-acres. It was constructed in 1974 and endured several name changes including Motel 6 and Travelodge.

The property suffered from a variety of problems, including a somewhat hidden location and competition from newer, larger and more visible motels. Toward the end of its life, the Economy Inn had a history of police incidents (more than 600 service calls in 2004), health and safety violations and other problems.

Physically, the aging rooms needed extensive refurbishing - funds the owners did not have or wish to allocate to the property. The old carpets, moldy bathrooms, drafty windows, rotting walls and ceilings did not create an inviting place to rest for the night. Nor did a green pool of water lure any guest for a swim on even the hottest day in Fairfield. The property had several outstanding unpaid liens including taxes and water. In the first quarter of 2005, the occupancy at Economy Inn hit an all-time low with less than 20 percent of the rooms being occupied. It's virtually impossible for a motel to pay a mortgage and survive with occupancies below 50 percent.

While fending off a pending foreclosure on the Economy Inn building, the operator who had the controlling interest in the property came to the city's Redevelopment Agency and offered to sell the property.

The agency agreed to purchase the property for $2.8 million, which was less than the assessed value of $3.3 million declared on the county assessors' tax roll.

The property owner also agreed to demolish the building prior to transferring it to the Redevelopment Agency.

By purchasing the former Economy Inn property, the agency hoped to facilitate the future expansion of the Fairfield Auto Mall. The parcel creates attractive potential for auto sales.

The auto-related uses of neighboring properties along Auto Mall Parkway certainly lends credence to the belief the economic life of the former Economy Inn building had dwindled beyond recovery.

Functional obsolescence had set in.

Newly constructed lodging facilities are blanketed with a different style of architecture, and interior room arrangements.

In evaluating the issues that faced the former Economy Inn property, the recommended alternative was to acquire the property with a demolished building, resell the parcel and create a higher and better land reuse development opportunity.

In this case, it also does not hurt that 83 rooms were taken out of an already oversupplied hotel market.

Economic notes is an update from Fairfield City Hall written by Brian Miller and Karl Dumas of the Fairfield Planning and Development Department. They can be contacted at 428-7461 or e-mail at kdumas@ci.fairfield.ca.us or bkmiller@ci.fairfield.ca.us.

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