By Sam Prickett
After close to a year of delays, construction of a boutique hotel in downtown Homewood is moving forward – albeit with a few changes from its developers’ original plans.
The five-story, 129-room Valley Hotel is on track to open in late fall 2020 at the corner of 18th Street South and 28th Avenue South, the former location of Hatfield Auto and Little Professor Bookstore.
While plans for the project initially included an adjacent, full-service spa, that idea has been eliminated, said developer Mike Mouron. Instead, as a result of negotiations with the city of Homewood, the hotel will be accompanied by 15,000 square feet of retail space.
That change of plans – and the yearlong delay – is due in part to negotiations with the city of Homewood.
“The city has steadfastly been more interested in retail that generates sales tax than they were in a spa, which does not,” Mouron said.
The incentives package approved by the City Council in December required development of more retail space in exchange for abating 75 percent of the hotel’s lodging tax revenue for up to $10 million or 20 years, depending on which comes first.
Mouron, who bought the property in 2016, is expected to invest $50 million in the development, which also will include a 140-space parking lot for hotel guests and an additional lot for guests and shoppers.
Those negotiations took a long time, Mouron said, due to “the challenge … of getting (multiple city officials) on the same page at the same time in a dynamic environment, which is not easy. But the city worked in good faith, I worked in good faith, and we got the agreement signed.”
The incentives package has helped to offset rising construction costs, which also contributed to the project’s delay.
“Construction costs have gone up so much so fast that it put financial strain on the hotel development, and that made the agreement with the city that much more important,” he said.
The terms of that agreement mean that Mouron is planning to acquire more property on that block to develop retail space over the next five years.
“I have acquired other land to build more retail in that area,” he said. “I’m in the process of trying to acquire some more.”
Unlike Hatfield Auto and Little Professor, which were demolished to make room for the hotel, the neighboring building that formerly housed Wolf Camera will remain standing – though it will undergo heavy renovations before retailers move in.
“There will be a lot of new windows opened up, maybe some new entrances, a new roof, new skin, but the structure of the building will remain,” Mouron said. “You won’t be able to recognize the building when we’re through with it.”
From the Ground Up
Meanwhile, the Valley Hotel will be built from the ground up. Work on the foundation of the hotel will start immediately after the sewer system beneath the site is relocated, which Mouron said will take about six weeks.
Though it now sports a new name, the Valley Hotel will still be part of Hilton’s Curio Collection, a line of independently owned, upscale hotels.
“(Hilton) demands that the hotels all be unique to the community in which they’re located,” Mouron said. “There’s no standardized design for Curio hotels, no standardized names or anything. They’re all to be seen as being unique to their community … . There will be some signage saying ‘Curio,’ but it will be pretty understated.”
The hotel still is slated to feature a ground-floor restaurant and bar, which will be run by the hotel management and open to the public.
“The company that is managing the hotel for me (Valor Hospitality) are, unlike some hotel operators, very focused on the culinary aspects of a hotel,” Mouron said.
Though developing a hotel is a complicated process, Mouron said, he’s excited that the plans are coming together at last.
“I look forward to bringing a first-class hotel to Homewood,” Mouron said. “Nobody’s more excited than I am that work is actually beginning on this. I’ve been working on this thing for many years, so this is the culmination of a lot of work, and it can’t start soon enough for me. I’m excited about it.”