ABILENE, Texas (KTAB) – Six months ago, the land in front of the convention center on North 6th Street was demolished to prepare for a new hotel. Today it still looks like an empty lot, and Abilene City Manager Robert Hanna says the project is on pause.
“I don’t see the global pandemic stopping the project, I do see it delaying it,” said Hanna.
In a given year, the Abilene Convention Center and Hospitality brings in around $500 million.
“The hospitality industry has really taken a nose dive,” said Hanna.
Nancy Liles, CEO of the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau, says they have lost about $15.5 million in revenue thanks to the new coronavirus.
“In a typical year, we’ll host 300-400 meetings and groups, this isn’t a typical year,” said Liles.
So, building a $65 million project isn’t in the cards right now.
“The challenge we have with the project now, people will be shocked to learn, we’re in a global pandemic, and so it’s really messed the markets up,” said Hanna.
Such as bond markets, which are essential for Abilene getting a loan for the project.
“Now is not the time to issue debt on a hotel, because we want it to be as successful as possible,” said Hanna.
Expert data is showing that across the U.S., about 30% of convention center hotels may default on their loans, and Hanna wants to avoid that.
“This is something we’ve promised to taxpayers early on that we wouldn’t do this if it didn’t make sense on a business standpoint,” said Hanna.
Liles is confident that the project will be so successful that the money isn’t the issue.
“I’m not worried about the debt going onto the taxpayer whatsoever because of the mechanisms that are being used for this particular project,” said Liles.
Some of those mechanisms are marketing and getting the new facilities booked out four years in advance.
“With additional and new property, we feel very confident that we can bring in new business to help everybody,”
Until Abilene sees more competitive loan rates and the hospitality industry bounces back, the land that is slated to host the hotel with remain an empty lot.
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