City committee says no to subsidy
By Scott Bellile
The New London Economic Development Committee chose not to offer any incentives to a prospective hotel chain eying the city.
Committee members worried that getting the city government involved in starting a new hotel could miff the existing businesses that comprise New London’s hospitality industry.
City Administrator Kent Hager informed the committee on April 25 that a franchise representative with Cobblestone Hotels asked him if the local government would pay for a market study for the hotel chain. The representative also asked if the city would offer incentives or if it knew of any vacant land or possible investors.
“Nobody else has asked for our assistance other than a revolving loan fund,” Hager said. “And to go out and assist, basically, a competitor to incur market, we’re opening ourselves up to fairly significant criticisms in some respects from other people who’ve been able to do it without any type of assistance. That doesn’t mean we can’t do it.”
New London currently has three hotels or motels: Rainbow Motel, America’s Best Value Inn, and AmericInn Lodge and Suites.
Committee member and First District Alderman John Faucher, who owns Johnny’s Little Shop of Bait, said he would be “ticked off” if the city spent public dollars to help bring a rival fishing bait shop to town.
Hager said he asked a representative of a different community with a Cobblestone whether their city provided incentives to the company to locate. It did not.
“I’m a little bit more, I guess, conservative, along those lines that if they’re a profit-making operation, they should be able to see the market themselves and pay for the standard costs of the study and do their own report,” Hager said.
Hager acknowledged it could be valuable for a smaller community with no existing hotel to invest in a market study. “But given our circumstances, I’m a little bit concerned about it.”
New London Economic Development Committee member Kitty Johnson helps businesses locate to communities as a business development specialist for CAP Services. She said a community like Manawa that holds touristy events but has no lodging could benefit from subsidizing a for-profit hotel. New London would have less to gain.
Those at the meeting made clear they would still be happy to see Cobblestone consider New London further.
“It doesn’t mean we couldn’t go back to them and say, ‘Hey look, like I said, we’re not really interested in funding this, but we do have a potential location,’” committee member Bill Bishop said. “I’m not saying close the door by any means. But [do] not pay the bill. I’m just saying keep the open lines of communication.”
Hager told the committee he will inform the Cobblestone representative the city is not interested in offering funding but is willing to Cobblestone explore the community.
Committee member and Fourth District Alderman Ron Steinhorst asked if it could be worth Cobblestone’s while to consider operating a hotel in a proposed mixed-use library building that would be built along the Wolf River. He said one of the two developers who returned requests for qualifications for the proposed library project might have the expertise to incorporate a hotel into the mixed-use building.
“That’s where we need a hotel is on the river,” Faucher replied. “The No. 1 thing I hear is there is no place to stay on the river.”
Headquartered in Neenah, Cobblestone Hotels has 123 locations in operation or under development in 17 states. Nearby Cobblestone locations include Clintonville, Shawano, Oshkosh and Ripon.