The developers of a 70-room upscale hotel along Georgetown’s waterfront aim to begin construction around the first of the year.
On Monday, design plans for the three-story, 54,000-square-foot building were presented to the public for the first time during a meeting of the city’s Architectural Review Board. The $15 million project is described as a game changer for the downtown waterfront, and the city could provide up to $2 million worth of incentives toward the hotel.
The site for the hotel is the current office of the Georgetown Times at Queen and Front streets. Plans currently call for the building to be demolished by the end of 2019. The developers said they hope to acquire the property by late fall. Construction could last between 12 and 15 months, according to Joe Keenan, one of the lead developers.
Design drawings show the hotel offering sweeping views of Georgetown Harbor looking out to Winyah Bay. The hotel’s main entrance, a 2-story portico, faces Queen Street (southeast) creating a dominate image for maritime traffic. A first-floor restaurant runs along Front Street, and a lounge — with bar included — overlooks the water.
Descriptions included with the drawings say, “Special attention has been put on how the building will be viewed by maritime visitors.”
The building has two wings and a courtyard opening up to the river. There’s an outdoor pool and event lawn. The two wings stretch out toward the river and include balconies and large, corner windows “to take advantage of the great views.” The building would have a maximum height of 45 feet as measured from the sidewalk along Front Street. The restaurant, operated by a third party, would sit at street level and be flood proof, according to the project’s lead architects: Stephen Ramos with LS3P and Michael Walker with Tych & Walker Architects.
Coastal Structures is the lead contractor.
The name of the hotel has not been finalized, but the developers are presently calling it “The George Hotel.”
“’The George’ seems to be a name that our team keeps coming back to, and obviously has great significance to the area which is very important to us. We think it has a good ring to it,” said Keenan, a principal with Charleston-based Palmetto Commercial Properties.
The developers plan to lease space for off-street parking on lots around the Chamber of Commerce building adjacent to the hotel site. That land is also owned by the Georgetown Times parent company. As of now, officials say there are no plans to commit parking spaces along Front Street for the hotel. Documents show the developers want the city to allow the small portion of Queen Street south of Front Street to essentially become the main drive to the hotel entrance.
A parking plan shows 93 spaces for off-street parking. The plan, which is not final, includes five spaces of on-street parking in front of the chamber building — currently, there are no spaces at that location.
“We feel very good about the number of spaces our design team has been able to create for the project,” Keenan said.
During the ARB meeting, Chamber President Beth Stedman expressed concern about parking for visitors to the chamber. The plan shows four spots reserved for the chamber, but Stedman said she fears that’s not enough. The chamber has three full-time employees in the building, which sees up to 15,000 visitors each year, she said.
In the parking plan, spaces are also set aside for Harborwalk Marina.
In the long term, parking for the hotel falls under the city’s goal to build a parking structure downtown. That project would be a part of the Tax Increment Finance District covering Georgetown’s core commercial area.
The hotel has been in the works for more than two years. The project was first revealed to the public in late 2017 when City Council approved a resolution supporting more than $2.2 million worth of incentives. But in April 2018, City Council rescinded that resolution and put forward a memorandum of understanding regarding perks for the hotel.
Since then, the city has reimbursed the developers for at least $138,000 related to pre-development costs — the total amount is capped at $262,500. According to the MOU, the first $131,250 was to cover 100 percent of certain costs associated with the project. The second half is to cover 50 percent of other pre-development expenses.
A complete incentives package is yet to be presented to City Council. The MOU caps the dollar figure for incentives at just over $2 million. The hotel is expected to have 15 employees.
Proposed incentives also include a structured rate for utility services for the hotel amounting to no more than $80,000 in annual savings for 10 years.
The ARB’s conditions for approving the project stipulated that construction would begin within 60-90 days of demolition and that detailed information about materials and other aspects of the hotel’s design would be provided for the board’s records.
Georgetown Communications, publisher of the Georgetown Times and South Strand News, has not settled on a new location, but plans call for the company to remain in the downtown area.