IT'S a cliche to note that downtown Oklahoma City had only one hotel going into the period of growth fueled by the passage of MAPS in 1993. Nevertheless, we repeat that information today to mark the dramatic contrast between then and now.
Twenty years ago, the dilemma was finding someone to open a second place of lodging in the heart of the city. Today the wrangling is over the appropriateness of the design for the latest proposed hotel in Bricktown.
Instead of finding rooms with a view, we're talking about the view of the rooms.
The scarcity of downtown hotel rooms wasn't true of the city as a whole. Plenty of rooms were available along interstate highways. But the measure of a city, particularly its ability to host large conventions, centers on the center. Fortunately, downtown and Bricktown now offer a variety of accommodations, from boutique to luxury suites to places more characteristic of motels than hotels.
Citywide, the growth rate for hotel occupancy in the first six months of 2012 was the second highest in the country, trailing only Oahu, Hawaii, when compared with the first half of 2011. The Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) expects continued growth as MAPS 3 projects are completed. One of those projects is a convention center planned for a site next to Chesapeake Energy Arena, home court of the professional basketball team whose games have helped fill many hotel rooms.
CVB figures show that the number of hotels in Oklahoma City increased by 50 percent from 1993 to 2012. The number of rooms has increased by 48 percent, to 15,713. Revenue from room rentals and from the hotel-motel tax is up by nearly 300 percent from 1993 to 2012. In the fiscal year ended June 30, hotel occupancy was up 11.2 percent. Hotel-motel tax revenue rose by 12.7 percent in just one year.
“You don't see this significant of an increase in other cities around the country, especially as our country continues to fight off a recession,” said Mike Carrier, CVB's president.
While the growth figures cover the whole city, the downtown and Bricktown areas get the most attention. A Holiday Inn Express first proposed in 2008 for Bricktown was delayed by the appropriateness of its proposed design and later scrubbed due to the recession. It's now back at the reservation desk with a new design involving five stories and 124 rooms.
Steve Lackmeyer, who covers downtown and Bricktown for The Oklahoman, reports that a wave of hotel projects in the central city include an 11-story Hilton Garden Inn, a Marriott Springhill Suites and two others. Also announced is conversion of a former office building in Midtown into a 54-room hotel.
The building spurt is coming despite what Lackmeyer reports is “fierce national competition” for conventions and an oversupply of meeting space in a time of shrinking demand. Hotel developers are doubtless aware of these trends but are pressing ahead because this is an exciting time for Oklahoma City.
MAPS 3 skeptics will use national trends to bolster their arguments about the convention center, but the existing facility (Cox Center) will be at least 50 years old when the replacement structure is finished.
Twenty years ago, convention-goers had an easy walk from the only downtown hotel to the convention center. Problem was, a lack of central city rooms suppressed the CVB's ability to woo conventions. That's no longer true.
Now the challenge is to lure enough visitors to keep downtown/Bricktown hotels operating at a healthy occupancy rate.