New Marriott anchors development near DE Turf
FREDERICA — After months of construction, the SpringHill Suites by Marriott officially opened for bookings Thursday night with hopes of capturing visitors along Route 1 and those coming to the DE Turf Sports Complex across the highway.
Five days later, it’s clear that the demand is there for a hotel in the rural parts of the county. In November, the average daily room rate is projected at $330 and 80% hotel occupancy.
“And it’s going to ramp up,” said Mike Meoli of Meoli Companies, one of the partners on the SpringHill Suites by Marriott. “DE Turf obviously would love to get as many rooms to satisfy their demand. But on the commercial side, whether it’s working with the local hospitals and other businesses, we’re getting as many calls as we can.”
Meoli and partners Mike Koppenhaver and John Paradee cut the ribbon on the SpringHill Suites by Marriott, an 86-room hotel complete with a fitness center, indoor pool, conference room and more. The hotel broke ground in January 2022, running slightly behind schedule due to supply chain issues impacting the construction sector. The hotel employs 25 people.
The hotel serves as the first anchor for Asbury Square, an envisioned 22-acre shopping complex designed to foster even more economic growth in Kent County, which was sparked by the DE Turf Sports Complex that opened in 2017. Paradee, a land use lawyer, first bought the land for $270,000 in 2018 after the Delaware Department of Transportation declined to move forward on a proposed interchange.
While the $24 million DE Turf complex was underpinned by a $1 lease from the Kent County Levy Court and funded through county bonds and state money, Asbury Square’s start relies on private funds and the hope that if it’s built, people will come.
“The idea is that you bring in a business that can survive being in first, and a hotel is one of those options with the Turf complex and with Bayhealth and Nemours [at the Sussex Campus],” Meoli said. “Scale also has a lot to do with people’s confidence, I know there’s two other properties down the road in various stages of design for hotel and retail. I firmly believe that the greater Frederica area is going to take off — and I’m a little bit of a risk-taker. We’ll be fine here, and I think it’ll draw others.”
Right now, Asbury Square already has its second project in the works: Empire Wine and Spirits Liquors, owned by Rishi Sharma.
The DE Turf Sports Complex has been tapping into the growing field of sports tourism, where young athletes come to compete in tournaments as well as to be scouted by collegiate coaches. The niche tourism industry has steadily been growing throughout the years, reaching $39.7 billion in the direct spending impact of amateur and youth sports tourism in 2021, according to the Sports Events and Tourism Association.
In 2021, about 49% of Delaware tourists came for such sporting events. In Kent County, $678 million was spent by visitors, with the bulk of it at restaurants.
When Kent Economic Partnership Executive Director Linda Parkowski was director of state tourism years ago, she was seeing requests for proposals cross her desk for sports tournaments. Driving through the state trying to find a venue for them proved to be a tough business.
“I knew there was money on the table, and we were missing an opportunity. Sussex County has its beautiful beaches. Kent County needed year-round drivers,” she told a crowd of people during the ribbon cutting ceremony.
More than a decade later, the DE Turf complex has done its job in attracting thousands of visitors throughout the year, she said. Now it’s sparking the next phase in economic development for Kent County.
“It’s building hotel rooms, causing restaurants to expand and drawing investors here to build,” Parkowski added.
Bill Strickland, chair of the DE Turf Sports Complex Board of Directors, said that over the years, sports teams have been surveyed about their experience. Time and time again, the same thing was heard: teams love the complex but they need more amenities.
“They’ve been clamoring for this hotel in the past two years. From the tourism perspective, we do see this as complementary, because the more there is to experience, the more reason they’ll have to come back,” he said. “Now, young people will come here from 32 states. They’ll have a place to stay, they’ll be eating at Frederica Pizza, Meding & Son Seaford, and Surf Bagel.”
“This is the realization of a dream for us,” he added.