Two more hotels too many?

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 1, 2005

Business looks to be booming on Highway 80 West, no doubt, but will the boom be strong enough to keep four new hotels from going bust?

That’s the question many in Demopolis have been asking since the news that two more hotels may be arriving soon on the rapidly developing stretch of 80 alongside the forthcoming Wal-Mart SuperCenter. In addition to the Econo Lodge Inn and Suites and the Best Western, a purported Sleep Inn and a fourth as-yet-unnamed hotel could be on their way as well.

When–or even if–the hotels will open remains a matter of conjecture, however. Mayor Cecil Williamson confirmed Thursday that three building permits for hotels have been filed with the city, two of which are for the Econo Lodge and Best Western. But Williamson could not verify who had filed the third, and at the time of this writing the Demopolis Street Department’s office was closed and unavailable for confirmation.

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Most recent speculation has suggested the third permit would belong to the future owner/operator of a Sleep Inn to be located near the current Holiday Inn Express. In fact, one name that has been frequently mentioned as the Sleep Inn’s proprietor is Dr. T.B. Darji, the Thomasville physician who already owns the Holiday Inn amongst other area hotels.

However, the manager of Darji’s hotels, J.D. Davis, categorically denied Thursday that Darji had any interest whatsoever in building an additional hotel on 80 West.

“It’s just not true,” he said.

Who, then, is looking to open the Sleep Inn (or any hotel on the property) remains a matter of speculation.

The other potential hotel, promised by a sign on 80 that reads “Coming Soon: Hotel!” is planned for the lot adjacent to Kidd-Robbins funeral home and the entrance to Demopolis High School. The prospective owner/investor behind the sign and hotel is Hugh Edmonds of Centreville, who already owns Demopolis’s Windwood Inn. A sign had been erected previously claiming a Comfort Inn would be built on the property, but that sign has since been replaced by the current, non-specific version.

When contacted recently, Edmonds declined to comment on his plans for the hotel, saying that he was not prepared to make any public statements at this time. He did, however, confirm that he had not filed for a building permit with the city.

In the event that all four hotels make it out of the planning stages and into operation, competition for the lodger’s dollar on 80 will undoubtedly be fierce. But Williamson says she’s confident that if the Demopolis market couldn’t sustain the new businesses, their investors wouldn’t be interested in the first place.

“I’m sure these men have done their homework,” she said, “and I welcome them to come to Demopolis. I have confidence that they’ll do well and do well for the city.”

Some of that homework may not have been entirely pleasant to do, however. Figures released by Auburn University of Montgomery show that Marengo County’s hotel business actually slowed down in 2004, based on state lodging taxes received. In 2003, lodgers paid $84,944 in taxes to stay in Marengo, a number that dropped more than 13.5 percent in 2004 to $73, 414.

Despite those numbers, the undeniable growth on Highway 80 West could very well mean success for the hotel investors.

“The lodging industry, like all industries, is subject to the laws of supply and demand,” said Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce President Jay Shows. “The decline is a little discouraging. But it is the Chamber’s wish, in whatever industry, that anyone who looks at Demopolis will come in and be successful, if the market demographics are sustainable…we just want people to come in and be successful.”