New builds and renovations heat up hotel sector
By PAM GEORGE
Special to Delaware Business Times
If you’ve visited the Wilmington Riverfront recently, you’ve likely noticed the construction next to Big Fish Grill. Another dining venue? Not quite. The project does include a banquet center, but it will link to a 114-room Hyatt Place Hotel.
The Hyatt is part of a flurry of activity on Delaware’s hotel scene, particularly in New Castle County.
Credit the available financing, said Vince DiFonzo, a partner and chief operating officer at TKo Management, a Newark-based hospitality management company, which manages the Hyatt Place Dewey Beach. “Interest rates are still relatively low,” he noted.
More good locations are available, he added. For instance, TKo is managing the SpringHill Suites Newark Downtown, which is under construction at the visible entrance to Newark’s Main Street corridor.
The business traveler, meanwhile, wants new rooms outfitted with the latest bells and whistles, which means no spotty Wi-Fi. “Technology is the No. 1 driver for the business traveler,” DiFonzo agreed.
All of which is leading to new construction and renovations.
The big news continues to be the Buccini/Pollin Group’s takeover of the Hotel du Pont, which was built in 1913. It’s located in the DuPont Building, which Buccini/Pollin purchased in 2017 for $32 million.
The privately held company – which buys, develops and manages real estate – quickly embarked on the first of the planned $175 million in renovations. The makeover of the hotel lobby and The Green Room bar is complete. The old Lobby Lounge is now The CafÃ©.
One might wonder about the future of a hotel in center city Wilmington since the merger of the Dow Chemical Co. and the DuPont Co. But Wilmington still has plenty of financial businesses and a thriving legal sector that needs hotel rooms, DiFonzo said.
The 217-room Hilton Downtown Wilmington-Legal District, which recently entered a management agreement with Asia Investment Group, has two legal “war rooms” for trial prep that are part of its 3,000 square feet of law centers.
Joining this property on March 20 is the Residence Inn Wilmington Downtown, a Marriott brand at 1300 N. Market St. The 67,000-square-foot building, once home to Beneficial Bank, will feature 96 studios and
one-bedroom suites. Perks include free internet, restaurant, called 1300, will be located on site.
Rolling on the river
The Buccini/Pollin Group pioneered hotel development on the Wilmington Riverfront in 2014 with the opening of the $40 million, 180-room Westin Wilmington.
The hotel filled the gaping need for accommodations next to the Chase Center on the Riverfront, a banquet and event space. Together, the Chase Center and Westin Hotel offer 90,000 square feet of meeting
and exhibit space.
However, the Westin does not have enough rooms for a large conference, some planners maintain. Buccini/Pollin has received franchise approval for a Homewood Suites Wilmington, which is under development. When complete on Justison Street, it will have 120 rooms.
The Hyatt Place, currently under construction, will also handle the overload. The project is a partnership between ONIX Group, which has properties in Kennett Square, Chadds Ford and Rehoboth, and Rehoboth Beach-based Big Fish Restaurant Group, which has 11 restaurants.
The ONIX Group will operate the hotel, and Big Fish will handle the food-and-beverage operations, including a 13,000-square-foot banquet center with 4,000 square feet of event space. “It’s a nice division of duties,” said Eric Sugrue, managing partner of the Big Fish Restaurant Group.
The event space will target weddings and small corporate functions for up to 200 people, says Jonathan Silver, director of real estate for the ONIX Group. A patio along the Riverfront will also be available for events, and a bridal suite on the building’s top floor will overlook the Christina River.
South of the city
The activity doesn’t end at the city limits. The Hilton Wilmington/Christiana in 2017 completed a $7 million project to rebrand and reposition the 270-room hotel near Christiana Hospital.
Owned and operated by Meyer Jabara Hotels, the property has received a modernizing makeover that includes such high-tech features as 47-inch flat-screen TVs with 60 channels, and door locks controlled by guests’ smartphones.
The hotel last spring debuted Market Kitchen & Bar, which brings a local angle to the gastropub experience.
In Newark, the SpringHill Suites Newark Downtown is scheduled to open on May 1. Owned by Danneman Hospitality, the hotel will have 132 rooms and suites and 336 square feet of meeting space. It will also have the latest in technology with internet access points in rooms instead of in hallways.
“The in-home entertainment is like what you’d find in your house,” DiFonzo said. Or, perhaps, better. Just enter your Pandora password for music. You can also watch Netflix and Amazon Prime.
Middletown this spring is getting a 93-room Holiday Inn Express & Suites in the MOT Auto Park.
In coastal Sussex County, Beach House Dewey recently overhauled its 47 guestrooms. Sleek modern furniture and crisp white duvets give the property a modern touch. It was formerly the Sand Palace Hotel until it was purchased by Bernstein Companies in 2012.
Expect more to come. The Christiana Mall area may get a 115-room hotel if a proposal is approved, and a hotel has been proposed for the edge of the Delaware Park campus in Stanton. A hotel is also part of the strategic plan for UD’s STAR Campus, located on the former site of Chrysler.
There is seemingly no shortage of places for visitors to rest their heads.