Hoteliers hesitant to bet on Grand Park Sports Campus crowds

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A strong debut for Westfield’s Grand Park Sports Campus is driving hotel demand for a town without any rooms of its own and few hotels in the works.

Despite a growing need for weekend rooms—thanks to thousands of players, coaches and visitors in town for baseball, softball and soccer tournaments—hotel developers remain hesitant to build in Westfield as they gauge Grand Park success and the likelihood that guests will also arrive on weekdays.

Many out-of-town visitors are staying in Noblesville, Carmel and Fishers hotels. But for some events, the 3,142 rooms in 28 hotels and five bed and breakfasts in Hamilton County aren’t enough, pushing visitors to Indianapolis, Lafayette and Kokomo.

Some relief is on the way in Westfield: A former Rodeway Inn is scheduled to open this month as a Holiday Inn Express, and a Cambria Suites with 153 rooms is in the works. More developers are scouting around.

Myers Myers

“I think they will get there, and I think it will happen. We just need another six months,” Hamilton County Tourism Inc. President and CEO Brenda Myers said of the potential for more Westfield hotels. “We get a lot of inquiries. There’s a lot of interest out there.”

Growing demand

Myers admitted she was blown away by Grand Park’s quick success when it opened last spring.

“It was literally like the wind blowing your hair back,” she said. “We thought it would be a four-year grow-in.”

This year is on par to be even better. In mid-April, Grand Park hosted the Crossroads of America College Showcase with 260 boys’ soccer teams, which pushed Hamilton County hotel occupancy to 96 percent. That’s a 126-percent increase from the same weekend in 2014, with a less-than-1-percent boost in inventory.

However, Myer noted that it was Easter weekend in 2014, and fewer people travel during holidays.

Occupancy rates for 2015 are expected to be 70 percent, which Myers said is considered full.

She said the influx of Grand Park overnight guests has prompted some Hamilton County hotels to add more double-double rooms and sleeper sofas.

With Grand Park playing a heavy hand in hotel availability, Myers said her organization has started tracking weekends with large tournaments to better schedule other area events. Some weekends in July are already sold out.

“It’s a good problem to have,” she said. “We’re just sculpting the calendar. … We’re getting better and better at looking at the 52 weeks of the year.”

Staying out, for now

Hotel developers have been reluctant to flock to Westfield for several reasons, but the main hesitation seems to be concern over a single, weekend-focused customer base. Hotels fear they will struggle to fill rooms Sunday through Thursday.

“Anytime a business relies on a single customer … by definition the risk is higher,” said Mark Eble, Midwest regional vice president for San Francisco-based PKF Hospitality Research. “It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket, and no business likes doing that.”

According to data from Hamilton County Tourism, weekday occupancy is up 2.2 percent, to 65.8 percent, from April 2014 through March 2015.

Myers said she had been concerned about absorbing weekday hotel rooms, but is now optimistic the market can support the inventory.

Another potential concern for hoteliers’ building for the Grand Park customer base is the control tournament organizers might hold.

For example, an organizer might pressure a hotel with an offer to promote it to participating teams as the preferred lodging in return for reduced rates and/or a cut of revenue.

“I’m not saying this is happening in Westfield, but this is not uncommon,” Eble said. “There is a risk building a hotel in a market where you may or may not be in the driver’s seat.”

Even if a hotel developer is willing to rely on Grand Park visitors, the customer base was only speculation before last year.

“I think that everybody was kind of waiting to see what Grand Park was going to do,” said Ashley Dora, regional manager for Fishers-based Dora Hotel Co. LLC. “It’s hard to build a hotel based on what somebody says they’re going to bring.”

Grand Park’s early success was enough to attract at least one hotel, Cambria Suites, which is finalizing plans for a four-story building near the park.

But it’s possible other investors are still waiting to see what happens with two proposed indoor facilities, which could make Grand Park a year-round attraction. Ground is set to be broken next month on a 371,000-square-foot indoor soccer facility. An 87,000-square-foot basketball/volleyball arena is awaiting City Council approval.

Hotels “had to see that indoor product come online in order to be confident that it can be a 12-month business,” Myers said.

Dora said the company’s Hilton Garden Inn in Carmel has benefited from Grand Park visitors; some are staying Thursday nights, which is usually a turnover night for hotels, along with Sundays.

“It’s been great for the market,” Dora said. “If they’re able to continue to drive demand year-round, I think you’ll start to see hotels develop up there.”

Cautious optimism

There’s optimism in Westfield that more hotels are coming soon.

Eble said it’s possible a second hotel developer will step forward soon, despite the risk, because it’s better to be second to enter a market than third or fourth.

“The nature of a developer is, to be the bird that gets the worm, you really have to commit yourself before everything is clear,” Eble said. “You either win big or lose big.”•

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