In case you missed it, I did an interview with owner/developer David Hart of Hart Hotels, which can be found on the Voice here. Here’s some of the material that didn’t make the final cut.
Q: So, let’s start with a little about you. Hart Hotels is family operation, yes?
DH: My dad was the founder of our company, my sisters and I have followed him as principals. But we have non-family members who have been with us for a long time that have been a driving force. This is our 30th year in business.
Q: This is actually the second phase, right? There was a modernization and renovation already completed in the lobby and hotel area, if my notes are right.
DH: The 61 rooms in the hotel tower, we renovated down to the studs. The main building above the lobby has another 19 rooms, original 1970s guestrooms, we renovated to the studs as well, a little over a year ago. Now we’re into phase 2, which is new construction, and some more renovations.
Q: I believe plans filed with this plan have a third phase, right? One that considers the possibility of a three-story hotel addition on the wing going up now, and a conference center?
DH: Nothing planned or approved right now.
Q: Further on that topic, some folks have expressed concerns that [the hotel boom] is not economically sustainable. A sort of fear of a hotel bust to follow the hotel boom. What would you say to address those concerns?
DH: One of the things that we’re lacking is a large format meeting space, a type of conference center. It’s unusual for a city the size of Ithaca to not have its own meeting space, so part of our overall market preference is inhibited by not having that space. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for demand to outstrip supply on many weekends in Tompkins County or downtown Ithaca, so I don’t see the problem of oversupply on most Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year. So Sunday-Thursday business is where the boat needs to be lifted a little bit, especially with all the new rooms. Our meeting space will help that a little bit.
Q: As a major hotel operator, what would you say are the biggest advantages to being in Ithaca and specifically, downtown Ithaca, and what are the biggest challenges? What opportunities do you see over the next years? Where do see the Hotel Ithaca, in say, five years from now?
DH: Some of the hurdles are the seasonality, the winter vs. summer. The Finger Lakes are a popular destination, but the seasonality is harsher when the schools are out of session, we’re reliant on the interest the schools and colleges generate. Cornell and Ithaca College bring a lot of business to us. Sports, scholastic events, meetings, they drive a lot of demand from the routine list of activities in the school calendar. This is a strong region for hospitality, we’ve been in the Ithaca area for a while, the region continues to grow in popularity with the wineries, the cheesemakers, the distillers and craft beer-makers, those are all part of the things we have to sell and market and promote. And lake activity and recreation is also a part of our overall marketing and selling of the region. That translates to hotel room demand.
…In terms of expansions, sites in downtown are hard to come by and expensive, so I don’t know how much more new supply there will be downtown. If you look at 13, there have been new hotels, they’re fringe, limited-service, so we might see some growth out there, but there are a fair number of rooms and brands there so I don’t know how much more they can grow….
We want to be ready for graduation, have the building closed up by winter. The frame is being assembled offsite.