NEW HANOVER COUNTY — After almost six years of working to bring a hotel to Wilmington International Airport, officials announced Thursday the deal has finally landed.
County commissioner chair Julia Olson-Boseman called it “a momentous day,” when she addressed the room full of local officials, airport staff and media. The group was joined by developers Andrew and Chip Weiss. The Manhattan-based duo make up AC Hotel Developers and are planning an upscale, six-story Crowne Plaza on Airport Boulevard, adjacent to the airport terminal.
“We have been looking for an area just like Wilmington,” Chip Weiss said, “with a growing population, welcoming business community, and when we heard about the opportunity here, with no quality hotel in the airport or around the airport, we [thought] that’s just what would go here.”
This will be the developers’ 43rd hotel and the first of its kind in Wilmington.
The Weisses are operating under the name “ILM Airport Hotel Partners” and investing more than $40 million to bring the brand to the area. They’ve been collaborating with the airport authority since last fall.
Authority chair Donna Girardot said the board has issued requests for proposals in the past: “We’ve had a couple nibbles but nothing serious over the years.”
The authority board voted Wednesday to approve the 35-year ground lease.
“Our airport is often the first impression for visitors in New Hanover County and that impression will be even better and stronger with this addition,” Olson-Boseman said. “This will further enhance the travel experience and provide something new for the region to utilize.”
“And it adds to the community’s tax base, which is always a good thing,” Girardot added.
There is no financial investment on the airport side; the hotel will be co-owned and operated by ILM Airport Hotel Partners and IHG Hotels and Resorts — franchise owners of the Crowne Plaza brand and 17 others internationally. Gina LaBarre, regional vice president for brand growth at IHG, said this building is also unique in that it’s new. Many Crowne Plazas are conversion projects, meaning they were renovated from other established hotels.
“For them to put a footprint here in Wilmington, I think speaks highly of this area,” Girardot said.
The Weisses said they hope to be open within two years and were strategic in negotiating for the location, within walking distance of the terminal.
“You don’t find that very often,” Andrew Weiss explained. “The location on this particular site was very important to us.”
The hotel will have 230 designated parking spaces, with opportunity for overflow into airport parking if needed. There will be 5,000 square feet of meeting space within the building, making it a destination for locals as well.
There will also be a ground-floor restaurant and rooftop bar. The rooftop bar — ably accommodating 300 people — will include an interior area surrounded by glass panel walls that can be opened up in nice weather. Fire pits will be placed outside.
“It’s unique to have a rooftop bar that’s really thought into the product,” Chip Weiss said. “A lot of places look like they are an afterthought.”
While the developers considered bringing in a national brand for the restaurant, they instead landed on leveraging local talent. They are seeking Wilmington-established restaurateurs to operate a destination restaurant in the hotel.
The building’s design, captured by CMJW Architects, stands to set it apart from other Crowne Plazas nationally. The duo said they did not want to be a cookie-cutter “hotel on the side of 95.” They wanted to embrace the airport aesthetics, making the rooftop bar design appear similar to an aircraft wing. The rows of glass windows are made to look like ribbons and the exterior will be made of metal, as opposed to stucco. The building itself will have rounded edges.
“We’re looking to do something more than what the brand requires for longevity and aesthetics,” Chip Weiss said. “And also because we want to give an elevated guest experience.”
About 100 of the 150 rooms will be an average 320 square feet. The remainder will be suites ranging from 450- to 600-square feet and offering a separate living space and bedroom.
Girardot said the hotel and restaurant will generate 125 permanent new jobs and another 105 are anticipated through the construction phase.
With the addition of this hotel, Girardot also said the airport authority is expanding its business park footprint in the next six months.
“In two years we’ll be bringing in $2.5 million just from the business park,” she said. “This allows us to diversify our income sources, which is truly amazing.”
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