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Carmel City Council hears from hotel consultant, carousel expert

August 7, 2017

The Carmel City Council spent hours discussing a multimillion-dollar antique carousel and a proposed City Center hotel Monday night.

Even though a decision won’t be made for weeks, consultants involved with both projects gave presentations at the meeting Monday to explain to council members why each one would be a worthwhile investment.

Both projects, which would be funded through $101 million in proposed new bonds the council is considering, have sparked debate in Carmel. Two online petitions—one supporting the spending and one opposing it—have gained more than 1,000 signatures collectively as of Monday night.

The proposed $38 million Autograph Collection by Marriott hotel would be located between the Monon Trail and Veterans Way, just south of City Center Drive. It would be about 100,000 square feet with 120 rooms, about 3,200 square feet of meeting space, a restaurant and bar on the first floor and an entertainment venue in the lower level that would connect to the Monon.

The city would maintain at least partial ownership and receive revenue from it. Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Coury Hospitality, which the city already hired to help with the planning stages, would operate it.

Paul Coury, chairman of Coury Hospitality, said the proposed Autograph hotel would fill a void in Carmel’s existing hotel demand.

“There is really not a four-star or even a three-star full-service hotel in Carmel,” Coury said. “I think a lot of your corporations are going to be grateful for this.”

Coury said a private developer likely hasn’t expressed interest in pursuing a hotel like this because Carmel isn’t a big enough city, so the return on investment wouldn’t be as high— but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be profitable.

“Our feasibility study came in really, really strong,” Coury said, adding that they predict the first-year occupancy rate would be about 65 percent. “I think you’ll be shocked at how well this will do.”

The average daily room rate for Autograph hotels is about $216, and the hotels average 78 percent occupancy.

Marriott launched the Autograph brand in 2010. There are more than 65 U.S. and 50 international locations, but none are in Indiana. Each hotel in the collection is distinctive, with its own name, design and thematic elements.

Coury said it’s become Marriott’s most successful brand.

Construction on the hotel could start in spring 2018, and it could open by August 2019.

The council also heard from Arlan Ettinger, president of New York City-based auctioneer and brokerage firm Guernsey’s, about the antique carousel the city is trying to acquire. Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard envisions the ride becoming a tourist attraction or an anchor exhibit for a public area.

The carousel is the hand-carved Centerville Carousel that Dentzel Co. built in 1907 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. It operates at Centerville Island in Toronto and features 52 hand-carved animals, two ornate bench seats and an antique band organ.

Ettinger, who started helping clients buy and sell antique carousels in the 1980s, told the council the carousel would be well worth the cost, which could be up to $5 million.

“I know it’s expensive,” Ettinger said. “It is without question one of the finest carousels that has ever been created.”

Ettinger said if the city decided in the future that it no longer wanted the carousel, it could most likely sell it and turn a profit from the sale.

Local officials have not determined where it would be located or how exactly it would be maintained and operated.

Ettinger said there’s very little maintenance needed usually, and often community volunteers handle most of the work. Brainard said the city has already heard from individuals interested in volunteering to operate it.

“I’ve never heard of excessive overhead or huge unexpected costs,” Ettinger said.

It would cost about $100,000 to dismantle it, move it from Toronto and reconstruct it in Carmel.

Also during the meeting, about a dozen people spoke in opposition of the projects, while two individuals spoke in favor of the proposals.

The council is expected to discuss both projects at a finance committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 15.

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