South Carolina

Why is downtown Columbia getting so many new hotels? Here’s why

A new full-service hotel is opening in downtown Columbia that promises to pump more energy into a revitalized downtown.

The Holiday Inn is going into the former office building on 1223 Washington St., a half block from Main Street next to the Sheraton. It will feature 90 rooms, a restaurant and a bar.

“All the floor (plans) are the same, but all the rooms are unique and different,” said Lee Mashburn, of Mashburn Construction, whose company also renovated a building a few blocks away into the popular boutique Hotel Trundle. “A lot of beautiful vistas and views. It’s right in the heart of the city. You’ll be able to walk to all of the restaurants.”

But the new Holiday Inn, developed by Lexington Hospitality, is just one of four new hotels that will be opening soon in downtown Columbia. And more will likely be coming, according to Columbia tourism and development leaders.

“I continue to have discussions with others,” said Fred Delk, executive director of the Columbia Development Corp., which encourages and guides investment in the Vista and other areas of the city. “In at least two cases people are talking large, full-service hotels — 250 rooms and up.”

Jason Outman, head of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said a growing University of South Carolina, more tourists, and the steady influx of business people, state and federal workers, lobbyists and Fort Jackson parents are maxing out occupancy rates and driving up room rates.

Through the end of May, the 11 hotels in the downtown area — roughly from Blossom Street to Elmwood Avenue and Gregg Street to the Congaree River — had a 75.7 percent occupancy rate. That’s up from 70 percent last May.

“That’s a golden number,” he said. “That makes it tough to get a room.”

And he noted that it’s not uncommon for occupancy rates on Tuesdays and Wednesdays — the optimum days for business travel — to reach 90 percent.

“It’s the quick business trip,” he said. “And we’ve always got government travel.”

The full-service Holiday Inn is one of four new properties being built downtown.

Two of them — the duel Home2Suites and Hilton Garden property at 1615 Gervais St — are expected to open in September. The Home2Suites has 100 rooms, and the Hilton Garden Inn has 123.

Jeff Wilkinson

The project is a renovation of the former Clarion Townhouse, which has been ongoing for about five years. Developer Seraj Patel of CN Hotels of Greensboro, N.C., said turning a existing hotel into two separate hotel proved challenging.

“Sometimes is easier to go from the ground up than to do a renovation,” he said.

Patel said that in addition to downtown Columbia’s attractive occupancy rates, the average daily room rate is also high, drawing the attention of more developers.

“If you have 80 percent occupancy at $50 a night it’s not worth it,” he said. “But at $150 a night that’s worth looking at.”

Outman of the CVB said the average daily room rate for the 11 downtown hotels in May was $159. That’s up 5 percent from May 2018’s $151. In 2013, when he began segregating the downtown hotel market from those in the region, the rate was $122.

“We’ve gone up every year in the nine years that I’ve been here,” he said.

And construction is just underway on a new five-story, 105-room Holiday Inn Express at the corner of Washington and Lincoln streets adjacent to the Columbia Police Department. The hotel, being built by Sumter developer K.C. Udani, is expected to be completed in May or June of next year, according to architect Craig Otto.

Otto said that the site was attractive because it’s only three blocks from the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center and Colonial Life Arena.

And talk of an expansion of the undersized convention center could draw more interest from hoteliers.

“The highest occupancies are always closest to the corner of Gervais and Lincoln,” the nearest main intersection to the convention center, Delk said.

Jeff Wilkinson has worked for The State for both too long and not long enough. He’s covered politics, city government, history, business, the military, marijuana and the Iraq War. Jeff knows the weird, wonderful and untold secrets of South Carolina. Buy him a shot and he’ll tell you all about them.