Developer Pitches New Plan For Downtown Hotel, Conference Center Near Arena | WGLT

Developer Pitches New Plan For Downtown Hotel, Conference Center Near Arena

Jan 9, 2018

A Bloomington developer made a surprise public pitch to aldermen Monday for a new downtown hotel and conference center, calling his public-private partnership the “solution” city leaders have been seeking.

Jim Pearson with The Vantage Group Ltd. spoke Monday during the Bloomington City Council meeting’s public comment period, typically when residents bring concerns or feedback to aldermen. Instead, Pearson passed out handouts showing a map showing the new hotel and conference center that would be attached to Grossinger Motors Arena. It would be located on city-owned land just north of the arena.

“I have brought you a solution and a goal for success,” Pearson said. “Are you willing to step up and join the partnership team concept for Bloomington’s revitalization as the new premier city of the Twin Cities?”

Pearson’s proposal comes as aldermen weigh several ideas for revitalizing the city’s central business district. The Downtown Task Force’s final report, which was presented to aldermen Monday night, includes a recommendation to explore “more aggressive options” for a so-called catalyst project, including a “hotel and conference center development near the arena.”

Pearson, who serves on the Bloomington Planning Commission, touted his previous work with the city in 1995 on the new police department headquarters and parking structure.

Pearson said he’s studied downtown for 18 months. He's proposing a 110-room "national branded hotel" with a restaurant and parking, alongside a 48,000-square-foot convention center, according to documents he distributed Monday.

“But I kept coming back to the underlying need of the downtown, the one that everyone says we need—to bring people downtown for a strong reason,” Pearson said. “What will that reason be? Is it an event at the arena, or is it for shopping? It’s for both reasons.”

It’s unclear how the public portion of Pearson’s plan would work or how much public money or property would be involved. Cost-conscious aldermen are currently at work on next year’s budget, hoping to solve a projected $3 million budget deficit caused by rising costs and flattening revenues.

Pearson isn’t the first developer to pitch his vision for a downtown hotel. Jeff Giebelhausen and David Bentley proposed their own ideas in 2015 and 2016. Giebelhausen wanted to use the Commerce Bank and Front 'n' Center buildings. Bentley wanted to transform the Pantagraph into a boutique hotel. Neither plans have gained traction.

Mayor Tari Renner has expressed support for a downtown hotel in the past. In July Renner said the city’s downtown revitalization efforts can only advance so far without a hotel. That came as local hotels struggled with low occupancy rates and several new properties opening.

“(The slowdown) is certainly an important variable, but will it stop us from looking for one? No. And the reason is because downtown hotels in metro cities—especially if they’re the first one—tend to create their own markets. And especially if they’re right next to an arena like ours,” Renner said.

Pearson said he’ll submit a “detailed scope and draft outline” of his plan to Interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen within the next two weeks. Pearson's group will "issue a national (request for proposals) to recruit and secure interested parties with experience in hotel operations and conference center successes," Pearson said. That RFP will ask for construction estimates, local contractors, capital lenders, and investors, he said.

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