Developer plans new hotel near Hartsfield-Jackson, College Park arena

A rendering of the proposed Home2Suites and Tru hotel property to be located in College Park near the Georgia International Convention Center. Source: Starlight Hotel Group
A rendering of the proposed Home2Suites and Tru hotel property to be located in College Park near the Georgia International Convention Center. Source: Starlight Hotel Group

Credit: Source: Starlight Hotel Group

Credit: Source: Starlight Hotel Group

Bet placed that air travel will rebound by early 2022 when rooms ready

A developer is plowing ahead with plans to build a new hotel development near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, despite the severe decline in travel due to the pandemic.

Aziz Dhanani’s Starlight Hotel Group plans to build a Home2 Suites and Tru hotel near the Georgia International Convention Center, which is connected to the Atlanta airport via SkyTrain.

An ATL SkyTrain moves down the rail near the Georgia International Convention Center Gateway station.
An ATL SkyTrain moves down the rail near the Georgia International Convention Center Gateway station.

Credit: File

Credit: File

The site is also near the new Gateway Arena in College Park, home to the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and Skyhawks, the Atlanta Hawks development team.

The coronavirus has slammed the hotel industry amid a more than 70% decline in air travel and cancellations of large sporting events. More than half of U.S. hotel owners said they are in danger of losing their property to foreclosure, according to a recent survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Pending permit approvals from College Park, Starlight plans to start construction this fall and open the hotel in the first quarter of 2022 — by which time, Dhanani thinks, demand will be recovering.

“There will be a few bumps along the way. It’s not going to be a smooth ride for the next three or four years,” said Dhanani. “But I just had to make a hard decision — am I there for the long term, or am I just there for three or four months? No, I’m there for the long term.”

He said it took him five years to find the location by the airport and convention center and to buy the land last year from the city of College Park. He expects to invest more than $30 million in the dual-branded project, a budget-oriented 126-room Tru and extended-stay, 188-room Home2 Suites.

College Park, whose city limits include part of the airport, has seen a precipitous decline in revenue from the hotel/motel tax, to about $122,000 in April from more than $1 million a year ago, according to Mayor Bianca Motley Broom.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but certainly [COVID-19] is not going to be something we live with forever and we have to keep focused on developing our city and moving forward,” she said. “This [airport] being a global hub, that doesn’t go away. The light may dim for a little while, but we’ll get to where we need to be.”

July 22, 2020 Atlanta - Social distancing signs are  displayed as travelers wait for a train on Concourse A at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
July 22, 2020 Atlanta - Social distancing signs are displayed as travelers wait for a train on Concourse A at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Motley Broom wants to market College Park, with more than 35 hotels, as a destination for business travelers and others in the region. The city’s new arena opened last November.

Scenes from outside the currently under-construction Gateway Center Arena at College Park in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. The Gateway Center Arena at College Park open in November, and the city hopes the new venue will be a draw for the city. It’ll host the Hawks’ G-League, the Atlanta Dream and shows programmed by the Fox Theatre. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Scenes from outside the currently under-construction Gateway Center Arena at College Park in Atlanta, Georgia, on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. The Gateway Center Arena at College Park open in November, and the city hopes the new venue will be a draw for the city. It’ll host the Hawks’ G-League, the Atlanta Dream and shows programmed by the Fox Theatre. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

With a background mostly in the petroleum industry as a fuel distributor, Dhanani opened a Home2 Suites hotel in Roswell in June and is pursuing more hotel projects.

Industry watchers are forecasting that a recovery in airline traffic could take three to five years.

But Dhanani sees Hartsfield-Jackson as a continued draw for hotel guests. By 2022, he expects Atlanta airport traffic to have recovered to about 65% of pre-pandemic levels, and by 2023 he believes it will be closer to 85%.

“I don’t think the Atlanta airport can be relocated from there to anywhere else,” he said. “Being the busiest airport, we will have the travel back.”

There are already hotels in the Gateway area next to the Georgia International Convention Center and arena, including a SpringHill Suites, which is temporarily closed, as well as the Marriott Atlanta Airport Gateway, a Renaissance and an AC Hotel. All are under the Marriott umbrella, while Home2 Suites and Tru are Hilton brands.

The AC Hotel at Gateway Center in College Park, Georgia, on Thursday, February 20, 2020. The new hotel is one of the many economic development projects of Atlanta’s Southside. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)
The AC Hotel at Gateway Center in College Park, Georgia, on Thursday, February 20, 2020. The new hotel is one of the many economic development projects of Atlanta’s Southside. (Photo/Rebecca Wright for the AJC)

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Credit: Rebecca Wright

Dhanani said there are “people who like Hilton, and they will not switch to Marriott.” The decision on which hotel to stay at, by business travelers in particular, can be influenced by loyalty program points and status.

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