February 11, 2013

Firms begin study of retail and hotel possibilities for downtown Conway

Conway residents and businesspeople will know in less than two months if it makes sense to open a hotel in the downtown area.

Conway residents and businesspeople will know in less than two months if it makes sense to open a hotel in the downtown area.

Within three months, they should see what Conway can do to attract new businesses and people to the historic downtown.

The city last studied downtown marketing strategy in 2007, but much has changed since then. The idea of a downtown hotel, Mayor Alys Lawson said during a Monday morning meeting, “is not a new thing. It’s something that needs to be revived.”

A committee overseeing the two studies and five of seven City Council members met with representatives of the two firms that will do the studying for an initial overview of the scope of their work and how it will be done.

“We want something we can use as a road map,” said Bill Graham, Conway city administrator. He expects documents the city and downtown merchants, property owners and residents can use together to shape a prosperous future for the city, and particularly the downtown area.

Scott Smith of PKF Consulting in Atlanta said after the meeting that he expects his firm will have completed the first phase of its hotel feasibility study in two to three weeks. Then there will be more meetings in Conway to refine the findings with the finished document ready in another three weeks.

Tripp Muldrow of Arnette Muldrow and Associates in Greenville said his work on a retail and downtown marketing study should be ready in two to three months.

A meeting is scheduled at 8 a.m. Tuesday in the City Council chamber for the firms to get initial input from residents and downtown business and property owners.

Smith said the hotel study will look at what is driving demand for rooms in Conway, where people are staying now and how much they’re spending on their visits. That information will be compared with the same data from similar sized cities in S.C. Smith said his firm also will talk with the owners and managers of other hotels in Conway and get their idea of future demand for rooms.

He said that he and an associate had already seen some sites on a short tour of the downtown area and they looked pretty good.

The key, though, will be to determine if there is enough off-season need for downtown hotel rooms to support the debt to build one.

Conway Councilman William Goldfinch said he was glad to hear that the company will tell the city, which is funding the two studies, if a downtown hotel isn’t a good idea.

Muldrow, who worked with Conway on its 2007 charette study for the downtown area, said that his company will ask businesses to track customers so it will know the market area for people who shop downtown. In return for collecting the information, he said his company will provide each business with an individual report beside factoring the information into the overall study.

“Our philosophy in doing (the study) is to work with the merchants,” Muldrow said.

He said it is significant that his study will be collecting data in February since the information won’t address the impact that tourists have on business downtown.

“We don’t want to discount the visitor,” Muldrow said.

But they will be considered as an untabulated gift in the study.

Officials need to know the year-round drawing power of the downtown area in order to advise the city what it can do to attract new businesses and shoppers. Muldrow said that one outcome of his study may be to identify needed businesses that might best locate outside the downtown area.

He said his next meeting with the committee will be to share the raw data he gathers and to look at some preliminary conclusions.

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