New investor selected for hotel project

COVINGTON - A joint task force charged with overseeing the hotel/civic center project planned for downtown Covington has selected a new investor for the hotel portion of the project.

Following presentations from two finalists on Tuesday, the task force selected PR Hospitality Group of Buford to partner in the project.

The initial investors, Noble Investment Group, backed out in July, said Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby, chairman of the task force.

"The original investors were a very fast-growing, successful company with a lot of investors looking to maximize their deals. What happened is they outgrew the project," he said. "They were looking for bigger projects."

Once Noble backed out, task force members began recruiting other investors.

They narrowed it down to two finalists, including PR and Navin Shaw, who owns the Conyers Hampton Inn and the shopping center that houses Nagoya Japanese Restaurant and Domino's Pizza on the Access Road in Covington.

Shaw and his business partner, Chuck Thakkar, were strong contenders, Boothby said, but ultimately PR Hospitality was selected due to President Phil Riley's 30 years of experience in the hotel and hospitality business, as well as his experience in public/private partnerships, Boothby said.

"What makes this project so complicated is that the county owns the land and a private hotelier will own the hotel. Being able to work with various participants is very important," he said.

Riley said he learned about the project through BB&T bank.

"What attracted me is the community partnership and overall scope of the project," Riley said. "It's not just a simple hotel development. It's a major undertaking on the partnership. I believe in the project and think it will help the city, not only driving the economic engine there currently, but for a long time in the future."

Noble's commitment was for $9 million, but Riley said new costs will need to be established now.

In addition to the hotel investment, the project is to be funded through $5 million in special purpose local option sales tax revenues and $12.1 million in bonds backed by the Industrial Development Authority, to be paid back through hotel/motel taxes.

Boothby said the project cost may have increased, given the rise in costs for construction materials, adding that the industry is still feeling the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina.

The project will include a 1,200-seat civic center, a hotel, initially planned at 100 rooms, and a conference center.

Riley said the hotel will likely be a Hilton product.

Hilton has self-imposed restrictions based on various brands, Riley said, and until the scope of the project is flushed out, the brand name can't be determined.

The number of rooms could also change.

"Until the drawings get completed, no one knows," he said.

The task force will next hear from PR Hospitality in February, he said.

Efforts are still under way to acquire the needed parking, Boothby said.

"This is a complicated project. Everything from the acoustics in the civic center to parking to construction costs - it's a very complicated procedure," he said.

But now, at least, the project is once again moving forward, he said.

"We think this project will define Covington and Newton County for many years to come. It's that important," Boothby said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.