City to help pay for hotel study

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August 25, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Iola will help cover the cost of a study to determine whether an additional hotel should be built locally.
City Council members agreed Monday to pay $2,475 to Hospitality Marketers International for a comprehensive feasibility study for a new hotel property in Iola. Iola Industries already has agreed to pay the other half of the $4,950 study.
The funding request from Thrive Allen County came after its executive director, David Toland, noted he has been in contact with a pair of national hotel chains — Choice Hotels and Best Western — about developing a new property in Iola. Toland also serves as economic development director for the city, Allen County and Iola Industries.
The benefits to Iola getting another hotel would be significant, Toland opined, because of the utility purchases and dollars spent by hotel guests elsewhere in the community, such as a restaurants or to buy fuel.
The study would involve more than just counting up available rooms, Toland noted. The group also will visit with local industries, which host corporate guests, vendors and other visitors. Planners also would meet with Allen Community College officials because the college frequently uses local hotels to house students when its dorms and other housing complexes are filled beyond capacity.
Part of the impetus behind asking for the study is Iola’s steadily declining bed tax proceeds, which have dropped every year but once since 2008, Toland said.
Toland pointed to the opening of a convention style hotel in Fort Scott last November. Since it opened, that community’s bed tax receipts have grown 66 percent.
“Their situation is similar to Iola’s,” Toland said, “where they had national brand hotels switch to regional brands.”
Mayor Joel Wicoff asked if the study would take into account the impact of bringing a fourth motel to Iola, and how it would affect the other three facilities: Super 8, America’s Best Value Inn and Regency Inn.
Toland countered that an additional hotel would better enhance Iola’s reputation as a destination city for travelers. That adding another place to stay would be “growing the pie,” and not necessarily parsing out smaller pieces for others.
“I do know the rule of thumb is communities want to have a good hotel market,” Toland said. “The more rooms you have, the more everybody wins. That becomes known as a place you will stop.”
Toland also noted conversations with bringing restaurants to Iola also center on whether a nearby hotel would be a part of the mix.
Council members Jon Wells and Nancy Ford agreed.
Wells noted friends and colleagues who would stay in neighboring communities if a particular hotel chain isn’t in Iola. Ford, too, noted she and her family tended to stay only in name brand hotels when they were on the road.
In response to a query from Ford, Toland noted the study would not begin until after U.S. 54 is reopened west of town. A railroad overpass near Yates Center is being replaced, with traffic being diverted south to Chanute. The lower traffic flow has adversely impacted business at Regency Inn, its owners said recently.
The vote to approve the hotel study passed, 6-2, with Austin Sigg and Donald Becker opposed.
Sigg cited the number of vacant rooms already in Iola. Becker said he favored waiting until after inspecting renovations at Regency Inn to determine whether he  would support efforts to attract a new hotel.
Funding for the study will come out of the City Council’s budget.

THE CITY will chip in to help pay for new sidewalks at the football stadium at Riverside Park.
Jan Sigg, representing the Iola High School Booster Club, requested the city allow the school to utilize Iola’s sidewalk replacement program to connect the stadium’s five entrances to the parking lot.
Currently, all five entrances are separated by asphalt by a strip of grass that quickly turns to mud in wet weather.
The sidewalks are expected to cost about $3,100, Sigg said.
Through the city’s sidewalk replacement program, Iola pays $1.75 per square foot. At 770 square foot, the city’s share will be about $1,350.

THE COUNCIL also:
— Approved a resolution encouraging county and state officials to consider stricter regulations for cell phone usage among motorists, such as allowing only hands-free devices while driving. The Council decided against passing a local law because of the difficulty in providing even-handed enforcement, particularly for out-of-town motorists.
— Approved an audit engagement agreement with Jarred, Gilmore and Phillips, the Iola-based accounting firm that has audited the city’s books the past three years. The $8,800 fee is equal to what the city has spent for the 2013 and 2014 audits, City Administrator Carl Slaugh said.
— Declined to pursue parking restrictions on North Kentucky Street after Slaugh noted the city received no calls from citizens either supporting or opposed to the parking limitations.
Wells said he received one call, from somebody opposed to the limitations.
“It’s not a big concern of mine,” Wells added.
Councilman Aaron Franklin had proposed parking be prohibited along the street because of heavier traffic to and from Allen County Regional Hospital.
— Approved an easement for Southern Star, which provides natural gas to Iola and owns a border station on city property near the intersections of the Prairie Spirit and Missouri Pacific trails on the west side of town.
Southern Star officials need to install electronic monitoring devices at the stations, but the company had no easement on which to access the property, Slaugh said.

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