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Hotel Projects on the Rise
Published Friday, May 26, 2017

RiverWalk Resort in Lincoln. Courtesy photo.

New Hampshire’s hotel industry is making a slow, steady comeback since the Great Recession of 2008, and there are several new projects in the works that could bring hundreds of new hotel rooms online in the next couple of years.

The Granite State already had 414 hotels with 22,519 rooms at the end of 2016, according to Lodging Econometrics in Portsmouth. Hotel construction is increasing throughout New England and, while
activity in NH is modest, it’s a sign of a growing economy.

While only four new hotels, with 246 rooms, were built between 2015 and 2016, data from Lodging Econometrics shows more activity on the horizon. Three hotels, currently under construction this year, will add 289 rooms. Another five hotels, expected to break ground in the next year, will add yet another 656 rooms. At least four of those projects are expected to open by 2018, according to Lodging Econometrics. If that weren’t enough, another five projects, with 613 rooms, are in the early planning stages. In addition to construction, last year also saw renovations for five hotels, with 582 rooms.

Hotel Occupancy
Tourism is big business for the Granite State. In fact, it is NH’s third largest industry. The average occupancy rate in NH in 2016, according to a Smith Travel Research  report, was around 61 percent, a slight increase from 59.7 percent in 2015 and a bigger jump from 56 percent in 2014. How does this compare nationally? According to Statista, an online statistics aggregator, the national occupancy rate was 64.4 percent in 2016.

Hotel revenue is also on the rise in NH. According to STR, hotel revenue increased from $548,875,286 in 2015 to $581,392,335 in 2016, an increase of 5.9 percent. The average NH daily hotel room rate is $130 per night, according to STR.

North Country
From the southern tier to the North Country, hammers are banging to build and renovate hotels. In fact, two of the biggest hospitality projects in the state are new or proposed destination resorts in the North Country. RiverWalk Resort, a fractional ownership resort hotel at Loon Mountain in Lincoln, opened in May 2016 with 79 suites.

The seven-story resort hotel, the site of a former mill, is being developed through a partnership between Loon Mountain and Dennis Ducharme, president of InnSeason Resorts, which owns and operates the Pollard Brook Resort in Lincoln. The initial phase of what will be a $33 million project included a winery, Italian restaurant, spa, game room and indoor/outdoor swimming pool that converts to an ice skating rink during the winter (the first of its kind in the United States). The second phase of construction is expected to start this year.

The indoor/outdoor pool at RiverWalk Resort which converts into an ice rink in the winter. Courtesy photo.

Developer Les Otten is leading a $1.5 billion plan to remake The Balsams in the White Mountains into a four-season resort with the largest ski resort in the East Coast, an 18-hole golf course, condominiums, a 600-seat conference center, Nordic hot baths and spa, a performing arts center and marketplace.

The project has taken deposits of $1,200 per condo on $18 million worth of condominium sales and is expected to go before the Business Finance Authority in April for a loan guarantee. Project officials expect to break ground on The Balsams this year and to open for winter 2018.

Heading up Route 16 to North Conway, Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber, says that area is not anticipating new hotel builds because the hotels built five or six years ago have not had occupancy to warrant new builds, although Adventure Suites, a boutique hotel, continues to add new rooms. She adds that further north there are new hotels planned. For example, Glen House is being built on the former Great Glen Trails Ski Lodge site. It will be a 65-room, three-story hotel that will face the Presidential Range and include a pool and restaurant. Plans have been approved and the estimated opening date is this May.  

On the other side of Mount Washington, near Bretton Woods, the owners of the Cog Railway are hoping to build a 35-room hotel at the top of Mount Washington to meet the desires of visitors who want to wake up to the spectacular views the White Mountains offer. Their plans have not yet been approved.

A new hotel was recently completed in Bethlehem and another is being planned. Michael Bruno, chair of the Bethlehem Planning Board, says the new Arlington Hotel was built on the former grounds of another hotel bearing the same name. The  boutique hotel includes 65 luxury suites, courtyard, bistro, tea room and juice and cocktail bar and opened last summer.

The town’s other new hotel project, the Presidential Mountain Resort Hotel, is an approximately $10 million proposed development that includes an 81-room hotel on Baker Brook Pond and replacing all 15 cabins on the property.

The owner is working toward a partnership with Hilton Extended Stay hotels, and the Planning Board was awaiting a formal site plan review application as of press time. Bruno says he is enthusiastic about the prospect of the new owner turning the long neglected 150-acre area into a centerpiece for the town, including plans to restock the pond and create walking trails.

Projects that reclaim old hotels by adding modern amenities is the trend, says Earle Wason of Wason Associates Hospitality Real Estate Brokerage Group in Portsmouth, who has been a hotel real estate broker covering New England for over 30 years. When older hotels are not updated, reservations decline, which can lead to closure.

Further north, Berlin and Gorham have not added any new hotels, though there is an increased emphasis on strengthening the tourism economy in the region, driven by Jericho Mountain State Park and its miles of ATV trails.

Pamela Laflamme, community development director for the city of Berlin, says Jericho seems to be growing into a four-season attraction, and extended stays by tourists may eventually increase demand for hotel rooms.

Renovations in Central NH
In Central NH, much of the hotel activity has been renovations. In the Lakes Region, the Landmark Inn, a dated 100-room hotel in downtown Laconia, was bought last year by Ram Landmark Inn Trust, which includes members Mike and Ragi Patel, who will be taking over operations. Renovations to the Landmark’s lobby, indoor pool and restaurant are planned, but details weren’t available. Laconia’s Assistant Town Planner Brandy Loughlin says the city is located among four-season tourist attractions, including Gunstock, Cannon Mountain, Weirs Beach, the Tanger Outlets, Lake Winnipesaukee and the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion.

In Concord, the state’s capital, there are 10 hotels with 900 rooms, some of which were renovated in the past year. The Holiday Inn, which began its project in 2016, renovated all 122 guest rooms from new furnishings  and drapes to purchasing new local artwork. Renovations currently underway include the addition of a 500-square-foot fitness center and updating a 3,600-square-foot meeting space as well as the restaurant and lobby, says General Manager Rich Kelly.

The Comfort Inn in Concord completed a nearly $2 million renovation project of its entire facility.  

Many of the Concord hotels were built in the mid-2000s and are satisfying current demand, but Chamber of Commerce President Tim Sink says there is an increase in tourism, and he is expecting Concord will be considering more rooms.

Southern NH
In the southern tier, Portsmouth, a renowned tourist city, continues to add to its hotel stock. The Portsmouth area supports 19 hotels with another coming soon to the North End. Cathartes Private Investments, a Massachusetts company with an office in Portsmouth, is partnering with XSS Hotels in Hooksett to build a five-story hotel next to the 3S ArtSpace building.

A rendering of the planned Cathartes Private Investments five-story hotel in Portsmouth. Courtesy of Cathartes.

The project on Vaughn Street may include a  one-acre waterfront park that will be deeded to the city. Plans for the hotel are under review by the Historic District Commission and will go before the city’s Planning Board and Technical Committee. Developers hope to have approvals by fall and complete the project by late 2018 or early 2019.

Nancy Carmer, Portsmouth’s economic development manager, says there are many reasons why the city’s tourism economy continues to thrive. She points to Portsmouth’s growing restaurant and craft beer scene. And she says the city serves as a cultural hub for the state, offering festivals, galleries, discovery centers, ocean-related activities, arts and entertainment venues (including the Music Hall and Loft and the  Seacoast Repertory Theater), historical attractions and outdoor activities like biking and ice skating.

Portsmouth is also a business hub with a large cluster of tech and creative firms. Larger employers who have flocked to Pease International Tradeport and the business created by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard bring business travelers to the Port City and keep hotel occupancy rates up while creating demand for extended stay options.

Elsewhere along the southern corridors of I-93, I-95 and Route 3 around Manchester and Nashua, new hotels are popping up to serve tourists and business travelers. New businesses are relocating to the area and existing companies are expanding, says Michael Skelton, president and CEO of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

Skelton says Manchester has two niche hotels being built: a Tru Hilton, offering extended stays and amenities related to increased business activity in the Millyard district, and a Residence Marriott, located across from Veterans Park, geared toward millennials who want to pay less but still want access to downtown amenities.

According to Dennis McCann, executive director of Strafford Economic Development Corporation of NH, many of the big chain hotel developers and planners are taking their cues from the boutique and Airbnb models and marketing new brands, such as the Manchester Tru Hilton.

A rendering of the planned Manchester Tru Hilton. Courtesy of Lansing Melbourne Group.

Port Hospitality Group is opening a 66-room boutique hotel, The Garrison Hotel, on Silver Street in Dover in late spring. It is part of the Ascend Hotel collection by Choice Hotels and will include a large fireplace in the lobby, an outdoor patio with fire pit, indoor pool and concierge services. It is accepting reservations for June 16.

In Salem, near the Massachusetts border, entrepreneur and restaurateur Joe Faro has proposed building Tuscan Village, a mixed-use downtown project that will include stores and a 200-room, 280,200-square-foot hotel on the former site of Rockingham Park.

Conceptual plans for the first phase, which covers 50 acres, have been approved by the town, and site plans are being submitted, says André Garron, community development director and assistant town manager. Plans for another 120 acres, which will include the hotel, are in the conceptual phase and will be presented to town officials in April.

“Joe Faro has a good track record for design and aesthetic appeal that have succeeded in the past,” Garron says, referring to Faro’s other ventures in Salem, Tuscan Kitchen, an Italian restaurant, and Tuscan Market, which sells a variety of fresh and gourmet food. “Attendance at planning board meetings has been mostly positive. Many people are happy to have something being built on the former racetrack. And while construction may not start this year, the plans are moving forward for this 170-acre mixed-use space,” Garron says.

In the western part of the state, Jazzlyn Hospitality in Keene is planning a new 92-room, four-story Hampton Inn at 116 Key Road in Keene. A hotel on that site has been proposed since 2006, according to Leona Langella, administrative assistant to the city manager. John Rogers, the city’s acting health and code director, says an application to construct the 97,822-square-foot building is expected by summer.  

There are six other hotels in Keene and adding a seventh will help accommodate business travelers who are often in town to meet with C&S Wholesale Grocers, the largest wholesale grocery supplier in the U.S., or Markem-Imaje, which manufactures product identification and tracking products.

“Overall, there are signs that bode well for the New Hampshire hotel industry,” says Wason.

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