In the heart of bustling downtown Saratoga Springs, the frame of a new hotel is rising along Lake Avenue near City Hall.
Construction of the Pavilion Grand Suites, an extended-stay project of the Marriott lodging chain, may mark the start of a new wave of hotel construction for this resort city.
In addition to the Pavilion Grand, with 48 rooms and a restaurant, four other hotels have been proposed in the city by developers who see new opportunities here.
Saratoga has for many decades depended on visitors from both near and far to stay, eat and shop here. But that dynamic is changing, as high-tech industries come to the region and more business conventions are held here, bringing more visitors, some of whom are staying longer than most tourists do.
There are already 2,265 hotel or motel rooms in Saratoga County, three-quarters of them in or around the city.
While that might seem like plenty, there would be hundreds more rooms added — most of them associated with national lodging chains — if all the plans now on various drawing boards go forward.
“I don’t know if there’s anywhere else looking at this kind of growth,” said Todd Shimkus, president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.
Each hotel would be a multi-million-dollar private investment, and some people wonder whether the city can support them all.
“I rely to some extent on the fact that smart people are making these investments, and know what they’re doing,” Shimkus said.
Hotel expansion in the city comes against a backdrop of optimism nationally about the immediate future of the hotel industry, with the big hotel companies expecting travel growth both this year and next.
There were uniform projections of traveler and revenue growth at an industry conference earlier this month at New York University.
“If you look back over the last 30 years, [the stock market] has predicted the growth of our industry very well,” said David Kong, president of Best Western International, who was quoted by HotelNewsNow.com web site.
Jeff Clark, president of the Saratoga Springs Downtown Business Association, said he was concerned whether the city could support so many more rooms, but has been assured by the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau that it can.
“With the new hotels, I do have some concern about the bed-and-breakfasts and the mom-and-pop motels,” Clark said. “I’m told by the Convention and Tourism Bureau we can support the new hotel rooms.”
Todd Garofano, president of the Convention and Tourism Bureau, said it makes a difference that some of the new hotels are targeted to the extended-stay market.
Many international workers are coming to work at GlobalFoundries, he said. “They typically are staying in hotels until they find permanent housing,” Garofano said.
Traditionally, the Saratoga lodging industry has relied on people who come to the area for the six-week thoroughbred racing meet, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and other summer tourism activities. But that reliance on one sector of the travel market has been changing in the past few years.
“We’re definitely seeing more diversity of clientele,” Garofano said.
The City Center’s convention space was expanded two years ago, leading to more conventions. The GlobalFoundries computer chip complex in Malta, meanwhile, is directly or indirectly responsible for bringing in employees, construction workers and people who want to do business with the company, many of whom seek temporary places to stay.
At least three of the proposed hotels are extended-stay facilities, “and a lot of that is driven by GlobalFoundries, and also the construction work,” Shimkus said.
GlobalFoundries has been in a nearly constant state of construction since 2009, with hundreds and sometimes thousands of high-tech construction workers on site for weeks or months. There could be years’ more work for them, if the company decides to built a $15 billion second chip fabrication factory.
Sales and service people associated with the technology industry need a room “for a week, two weeks, a month” while making sales or working on projects, Shimkus said.
Proposals within the city include a 145-room high-rise hotel at Congress Plaza, which was approved by city planning officials this spring.
The other three new hotel proposals are still under city review.
Also in the downtown area, there’s a proposed 160-room reconstruction-addition to the historic Rip Van Dam hotel on Broadway.
On the city’s southern outskirts, developer Turf Hotels of Latham wants to build a 109-room extended-stay hotel at the old Weathervane restaurant site on South Broadway.
And at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway on Crescent Avenue, a 120-room hotel has been proposed as part of a $30 million casino expansion. That project was just announced, and has yet to be reviewed by the city Planning Board. Officials at the casino said he will draw on people who will come to gamble, assuming the state approves a casino gambling amendment to the state constitution.
The current round of proposals follows construction of several new chain hotels in the last decade.
It’s a transition for the city, which 40 years ago had mostly small, locally owned motels. But that began to change in 1982, with the opening of the City Center, which brought what was initially a Ramada Renaissance to the corner of Broadway and the Route 50 arterial, and created a space for large conventions. Before that, the Holiday Inn on Broadway was the city’s only chain hotel.
A century ago, when horse racing, underground gambling and the mineral springs were at their height of popularity and chain hotels were unknown, Saratoga Springs boasted some of the largest hotels in the world, though many of them were only open in the summer. Those hotels included the United States and the Grand Union, which filled an entire block on Broadway and was said to have been the largest hotel in the world.
Almost all the major hotels were in the city. But these days, there’s action outside the city as well.
Elsewhere in Saratoga County, Malta, Clifton Park and Halfmoon have all gotten their first multi-story chain hotels in recent years, and there are several proposals for new hotels in those communities.
One clue to why so many developers are interested in the local hotel market lies in the expansion of the city’s visitor season in recent years.
In the last two years, collections from the Saratoga County room occupancy tax have hit new records for the winter months. This past December through February, the tax brought in $90,586. That’s second only to 2012, when the tax brought in $93,541.
According to Smith Travel Research, average occupancy rates in the Saratoga market range from an average of 43 percent in December to better than 85 percent in August.
Shimkus said the increase in hotels will require the chamber, which handles tourism promotion advertising for the county, to work harder to try to bring more tourists, conventions and youth sports events to the city.
“We’ve got to step up to the plate with more promotion,” he acknowledged. “We need to make the pie bigger.”