City parts ways with hotel developer

More than three years after partnering with Columbus-based Sprague Hotel Developers on a plan for a new downtown hotel and conference center, the city announced Thursday night that Columbus and Sprague have parted ways on the project.

The city said it would move forward on the project and officials remain “optimistic” about its future, though the partly public-funded redevelopment effort now lacks a private sector development partner.

However, Mayor Jim Lienhoop said Friday the city already has been in contact with other potential project developers.

“We’ve reached out to a few others and they’ve expressed some interest in the program, and so we’ll simply see where those conversations go,” Lienhoop said.

“We have some meetings set up for next week, and we’ll see how that unfolds,” he said.

The proposed hotel and conference center is part of a larger redevelopment effort that includes the nearly completed Taylor development on Second Street a few blocks east of the Bartholomew County Courthouse. That project, being done in partnership with the city by developer Flaherty & Collins Properties, features apartments and space for an urban grocer.

In November 2019, the Columbus Redevelopment Commission selected Sprague as the developer for a proposed hotel and conference center as part of its Envision Columbus downtown strategic development plan. However, the COVID pandemic froze planning for such developments.

The parting with Sprague was on mutually agreed terms, city officials said. Sprague officials declined to comment Friday.

Following a mid-2022 update by Hunden Strategic Partners to the 2018 market and feasibility study that launched the hotel conference center, the city planned to move forward with the project by obtaining the site, which has been completed, initiating environmental remediation efforts and engaging architect atelierRISTING to design a parking garage, which was part of the original development proposal, according to the city.

City officials and Sprague resumed conversations about the development last year, but according to the city’s press release, “the recent pandemic has contributed to a vastly different environment than the environment in which the hotel/conference center project proposals were received in 2019. The city very much values Sprague Hotel Developers and all the positive impact and investment that it has brought to the Columbus community over the years. However, the parties were unable to come to mutually acceptable terms.”

Friday, Leinhoop said, “We just weren’t able to get together on the math. Costing has changed significantly during the pandemic, and now that we’re on the other side of the pandemic, what we’re finding is that it was really difficult for us to make the math work in terms of the projected costs and what the city’s participation in that would be.”

“The city remains optimistic about the future of the hotel/conference center,” the city’s press release said. “This optimism is supported by recent hotelier industry statistics indicating a positive growth outlook and our community’s ability to support this type of project. The city’s goal continues to be supporting the evolution of downtown by promoting projects and partnerships that bring people to our core and provide enhanced quality of life opportunities to our residents.”

The city last month completed demolition of the former Bartholomew County Probation Center Building at Third and Franklin Streets that was razed as part of preparing the site for the hotel/conference center project.

Sprague has developed more than a dozen award-winning hotel properties in Indiana from Seymour to Noblesville, including Holiday Inn Express & Suites Columbus/Edinburgh, Hampton Inn Columbus/Taylorsville/Edinburgh, Comfort Inn Columbus/Edinburgh and Hilton Garden Inn Columbus/Edinburgh. Sprague also has developed hotels in Franklin, Greenwood, Indianapolis and Fishers.

The company’s website says about its growth strategy, “Our strategy is to select prime sites and to build the highest quality product in our segment of the market. Growth cannot come at the expense of hurting existing operations, and we remain fully-committed to maintaining profitable, award-winning properties and achieving 100% guest satisfaction.”