New Marriott hotel announced neighboring Chason Park

Published 4:42 pm Friday, July 7, 2023

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As the Chason Park expansion project nears its completion, more construction is set to begin soon just down the street. This project will be a new Element hotel, and will be managed by Red Hills Hospitality MGT LLC, based out of Thomasville. Element is a brand of hotel chain owned and operated by Marriott Hotels.

City manager Chris Hobby spoke to the Post-Searchlight about the project, which he stated has been years in the works. “They started looking in Bainbridge, they had several different sites they were looking at,” he explained.

According to Hobby, none of these sites were deemed suitable, at which point the city suggested the parcel of land on the corner of N Florida Street and Dothan Road. “Ultimately, we said, ‘I don’t know if this’ll work or not, but we’ve got this piece of low property. It’ll probably cost a lot of money to build it up enough that you can avoid flooding, but if y’all want to study that, we’re open,’” he continued. The property is sandwiched between the bridge to West Bainbridge and the townhouses adjacent to Chason Park. Despite the additional costs of building up the land, Red Hills, or at the time Southern Lodging, settled on the property.

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Hobby stated that the city originally had no major plans for the project, though at one point it was planned on being made into a dog park as part of the Chason Park expansion. “…We felt like that could flood, and you know, big deal, you’d be fine,” he said. When discussions began about putting in a hotel, Hobby stated that the city conducted a feasibility study to determine the project’s viability, in terms of factors like hotel occupancy. The results indicated this hotel could be a viable project.

First National Bank has agreed to underwrite the deal with bond purchases and financing. “At that point, through our Downtown Bainbridge Development Authority,” Hobby said, “we’ve started looking at doing a bond placement where we’re just acting as a facilitator. We facilitate the bond issuance, that gets them a better interest rate on the loan, and then the city, or the authority, acts as a backstop to the debt.” He stated that, before the business would be able to pay for any other monthly bills or expenditures, it would have to pay for debt service. “That has to be satisfied before you pay Marriott, before you pay the water bill, any other bill, nothing else can get paid until your debt service is paid.”

In a press release, the city stated that, “Neither the city nor the Authority will be responsible for any portion of the debt except in the unlikely case of a default and failure of the project.” “If all of that blows up, then the city would foreclose on the property,” Hobby continued, “and we would then be responsible for remarketing and finding somebody else to go in. All the due diligence tells us the likelihood of that happening is very, very small… the debt’s theirs, all we’re doing is acting as a conduit for it.”

There is just one major hitch preventing construction from beginning immediately, that being the Army Corps of Engineers. According to Hobby, the Corps was instructed by Congress five years ago to transfer the property to the city. “That still has not been finished,” Hobby said. “We’re told that we’re close. We’ve got to get that piece done before we can start.” This process, he estimated, should be done by early August, allowing construction to begin in late August-early September, with 18 months estimated for construction.

“We do feel like this is a crown piece on the end of the River Walk,” he stated, “and that it’s something that we need.”