Monday, December 04, 2006

Sleeping in Solano

Sleeping in Solano
Numerous Hotel Projects on Tap Across County
By Amanda Janis/Business Editor

Construction workers frame the Staybridge Suites, one of two extended-stay hotels being built in the Green Valley Corporate Park. (Brad Zweerink/The Reporter)

The makers of "Do not disturb" signs and travel-sized toiletries are set to see sales increase, thanks to Solano County. Hotel development in Vacaville, Fairfield, and Suisun City is skyrocketing; whether or not that will mean boom or bust for the local industry remains to be seen.

Suisun City recently announced that spring/summer 2007 will see construction of a four-story, 102-room "high-end business hotel" overlooking its waterfront.

The city is also encouraging hotel developments on two different parcels adjacent to Highway 12, one behind the Sunset shopping center and the other near Marina Boulevard. Requests for proposals have already been sought for the Sunset site, and a recommendation to the City Council will likely occur in January, said Public Information Officer Scott Corey.

Hotels on the horizon
• In Vacaville, one hotel is making its way through the application process, four hotels have been proposed for future developments, and at least three more have been talked about as possibilities for the city's growing, north-eastern areas.

• In Fairfield, three hotels are under construction, one was recently completed, and another is undergoing a massive remodel and brand name change.

• In Suisun City, construction on a waterfront hotel will begin in spring/summer 2007, while the city is actively encouraging development of two more hotels on parcels adjacent to Highway 12.

Increased traffic on Highway 12 makes the sites marketable for hotels, Corey said, which give the city a chance to diversify its tax base.

Demand for hotel rooms in the area is evident, he said, "not only in Suisun, but in Fairfield and the entire market area ... there is quite a renaissance going on in the (local) hotel industry."

In Fairfield, three hotels are currently under construction: a Residence Inn on Holiday Lane, and Homewood Suites and Staybridge Hotels, both of which are extended-stay type hotels located in Green Valley Corporate Park. Additionally, Fairfield Inn & Suites was just completed in Cordelia, and the former Holiday Inn is undergoing major renovations to become a Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

"It's pretty amazing that you have all these products cropping up," admitted Karl Dumas, project manager with Fairfield's community development department. "Look at what's coming down the pipeline ... there's no way you can put all these rooms in Fairfield, Suisun and Vacaville, added to what we already have - there's no way all these products will survive."

The construction boom is fueled in part by easily obtained funding for extended-stay products, he believes, because they cost less to build than do traditional or full-service hotels.

And, Dumas explained, "Your operating margins are better if you're building an extended stay product. For example, you're having maid service once a week instead of every day."

Once construction is complete on the three brand-new hotels, Dumas said, that will put Fairfield's hotel room count at about 12,285.

"That's a lot of rooms for this marketplace," he said. "We have not increased our demand generators to keep in line with all the supply coming on board."

Though Dumas admits consultants consistently produce positive occupancy reports suggesting demand for hotel rooms in the area, he says it's somewhat misleading when Travis Air Force Base's new hotel is taken into account.

"A significant part of the business has now changed since they opened their own facility," Dumas explained. Prior to the February opening of the base's 350-room Westwind Inn, he said, hotels from Vallejo to Dixon were frequented by Travis-related guests.

As a result, local hotels have shifted their focus to leisure and business travelers, said Antonette Eckert, executive director of Vacaville's Visitors Bureau.

In Vacaville, a 3-story, 72-room Comfort Suites hotel proposed for Lawrence Drive is currently working its way through the application process. Should all go smoothly, construction would begin in the spring.

Proposals for two hotels have also been discussed as part of the Nut Tree development's second phase, and two more have been proposed as part of the Vacaville Pavilion retail project, to be located on a 72-acre parcel adjacent to Interstate-80 near the Vaca Valley Business Park. No applications have been submitted to the city for these projects, nor for an additional three hotels that have been loosely talked about as possibilities for the city's growing northeastern region.

Whatever the outcome, Eckert said, Vacaville's market wouldn't be over-saturated.

"We have less than 1,000 rooms in Vacaville now," she said, "so adding a couple hundred more wouldn't allow what I think is happening in Fairfield, which is some sort of cannibalization because they have too many and that forces them to become competitive and bring prices down. That's not happening in Vacaville."

Fairfield, in fact, recently took measures to curb hotel construction, Dumas said. The city changed most of its zoning about four months ago, requiring conditional use permits for hotel developments.

"You now have to show that by building a hotel you're not economically harming the other hotels," he explained.

Though Fairfield's case is perhaps more dramatic than its neighbors, Dumas feels all three cities should be concerned.

In addition to intensifying competition and creating challenges for the area's older hotels, numerous new hotels may prevent a large, full-service hotel with conference facilities locating here. And that's what's missing from the local market, he said.

"Had we focused on full-service hotels and not put so many rooms in the marketplace, I think all the Solano County cities would have been better off," he said.

Amanda Janis can be reached at

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