“It’s been a team effort,” Major said. “We have a really good, cohesive group that communicates well, and we’re about to turn the operation over to the Cobblestone family of BriMark and also a division that trains the personnel who run the hotel and manage it and give financial reports on a monthly basis to the investors, so that we’re going to be sitting back answering some questions, but frankly this goes into automatic drive here pretty soon, because the financing is all taken care of. Everything is in place.”
Major said that the hotel would be three stories with about 10,500 square feet per floor on three acres. It will include a variety of different room layouts, such as extended stay, large family, and studio, that appeal to different types of customers.
The investors will next review the design elements with Excel Engineering Inc. before clearing the lot and installing a construction driveway. Major said he anticipates breaking ground in the spring and that the hotel will be open for business before the end of the year.
Bailey said that she and Major first talked about the need for a hotel about seven years ago. He first made an effort to get a Holiday Inn Express, without success. Bailey said that information about Cobblestone Hotels was originally brought to her by Mayor Bill Bean about three years ago after they built their first Ohio hotel in Orrville.
Major and Howell have both spent nights in a Cobblestone Hotel, have asked questions of other communities that have worked with Cobblestone, and finally determined that their business model would make them a success in Urbana. According to Major, some of the investors they talked to were so pleased that in many cases they were investing in additional Cobblestone Hotels.
He also said that every aspect of their layered business plan has led to successful business operations for a hotel in communities the size of Urbana or smaller or slightly larger.
“We tried to shoot holes in the whole business plan just to see where the weakness was, and the management side stood up to questions,” said Major.
“The investors gave us the right answers, and the way that small communities have provided enough business for these Cobblestone Hotels pretty much convinced us that this is going to be a very good fit. Since we know nothing about managing a hotel, one of the big keys was just the day to day cleanliness, the management and upkeep of the facility - that makes a world of difference. That’s what we’re adamant about is that this is going to be managed well. Since we’re local owners we’ll have a real investment in it and we’ll make sure that it’s really top notch.”
Before Bailey could draw together a committee of investors, the CEP first contracted with Core Distinction Group, a third party that specializes in community feasibility market studies, to provide data about hotel stays to the investors. According to Bailey, Cobblestone prefers vacant land to build on rather than having to demolish and rebuild another structure, and so she selected four potential locations based on zoning and the owner’s interest in selling.
“We’ve had nothing but positive interactions,” said Slesinger, who bought the property after her husband retired nearly 40 years ago.
“When they called me and said that Urbana needed a hotel I said I’d be very pleased to have it on my ground. I’ve been a big traveler and I always felt Urbana was missing something, and what better way for me to give back to the town that I grew up in.”
Core Distinction came to Urbana in January 2018 and interviewed demand generators such as local businesses and manufacturers. They ultimately selected the land in south Urbana as the best location.
They also recommended a 77-room hotel to meet demand, but Major said that the investment group was conservative and decided on a smaller building that they could potentially add on to later. Another important recommendation was that the hotel should have a swimming pool.
“We looked at several possibilities of how to configure the hotel, should there be a swimming pool, and those of us who were very practical said why have a pool?” said Major.
“Thirty-five percent of the people will ask whether there’s a pool or not, and five percent may use the pool. But when you have a pool you’re going to get them to commit to spending the night there, so that’s what the experts told us, therefore we have a pool.”
Bailey said that this hotel will be attractive to customers because it will be the only hotel in Urbana with a pool as well as a workout room, conference center, and breakfast bar.
The three acres of land will provide enough parking area to provide for bus traffic from tourism and visiting sports teams. They also have a well-tested process of getting the hotel operational, and of training the staff that’s going to be hired in.
“I think that not only is it a good thing for Urbana, but it offers something positive for the investors if we can do it right,” Howell said. “I think there’s a goal to do something better than what Urbana has had or Champaign County has had in the past in terms of having lodging.”
According to the cochairs of the investment committee, nine of their 10 members have Champaign County addresses and have strongly supported this hotel project because they are dedicated to Urbana.
“Other than two people who are coming as part of Cobblestone, the rest are all Urbana people who are sharing the risk and have the vision that a quality, clean, well managed hotel is going to serve Urbana well and is going to enhance our other businesses,” Major said. “There are so many corporations that don’t have good places for their people to stay, or at least not in enough quantity.
“I can tell you the first time I was invited to come to a hotel meeting I thought I’m not interested..."
READ MORE in the Friday, April 26th Edition of the Urbana Daily Citizen.