March 10. By Dave Vieser. A 14-story hotel and convention center planned for West Catawba Avenue and Waterview Drive in Cornelius has gotten an informal—but cautionary—thumbs-up from the chairman of the Cornelius Planning Board.
“This would be a game-changing facility for this town,” said Planning Board Chairman Brian Simmons. “Though 14 stories would be a tough sell.” The proposed hotel adjoins residential neighborhoods. It would be the first and only hotel in a lakefront town with no lakefront hotels.
Architect Jeremy Millingen addressed members of Cornelius’ Pre Development Review Committee. Members expressed continued interest in the hotel, although the currently planned configuration may be a non-starter.
The original drawings submitted to the town by owner Sreeramulu Nara of Sunrise Fla. were for a two-story convention center with a 304-room hotel with 14 floor. The five-acre plot is currently zoned residential so a rezoning would be needed.
Millingen said six-story alternative with about 150 rooms is also a possibility. Simmons said that might be easier to work with from the town’s perspective.
The land—at 16801 W. Catawba and 7628 Waterview—are owned by a Sreeramulu N. Nara and Prasunamba Nara.
Cornelius is looking for commercial ratables. Some 83 percent of tax revenue comes from residential taxes.
A lakefront hotel would also give Cornelius gravitas in the regional hospitality industry.
Travis Dancy, director of sales for Visit Lake Norman, said that the last hotel that opened in the Lake Norman area was in the March of 2011. There have been multiple discussions and inquiries since then, he said.
Dancy said the Lake Norman area currently has 20 hotels with 1,604 rooms. Rooms run from about $69 to $139 per night, depending on time of year and demand. The occupancy rate was 61.1 percent in 2015.
A 304-room hotel would represent a hearty 21 percent increase in the number of rooms; 150 rooms, about half taht.
“I do think we will see additional hotel growth. We’ve seen an increase in occupancy every year since 2010 and the demand is there,” said Dancy. “There is definitely a need for a full-service hotel (generally defined as a hotelwith a large amount of meeting space, a food & beverage dept./restaurant and concierge service) in the market,” he said.
The Nara proposal includes a main entrance off Catawba Avenue, a service entrance on the Marina Villas side, a beach area and a restaurant, as well as the hotel and meeting rooms. A single-family home is currently being built on the northern edge of the proposed hotel land.
The commercially zoned Kenton Place mixed-use project, with the Elevation Church anchoring one end, is across West Catawba Avenue from the proposed hotel.
Milligen said the project has been planned so that the shadows from the sun will never be cast upon the neighborhood” Millingen said. The proposal included a main entrance off West Catawba Avenue, a service entrance on the Marinas Villas side, a small beach and a restaurant.
Cornelius Planning Director Wayne Herron emphasized that there would be a series of public meetings and hearings before any zoning changes could take place.
Still, the sense from the committee members was that the idea of bringing a hotel to Cornelius was intriguing.
“This is the type of asset we are really interested in,” said Cornelius Town Commissioner Dave Gilroy. “While something in the six- to eight-floor size might be preferred, I don’t think height itself should be a deal breaker. Let’s keep talking.”
At this point, the owners could resubmit a proposal to the review committee, file a formal rezoning application with the town, or abandon the project all together. Reached later in the day after the meeting, Herron said: “I believe the owner will be working with their legal counsel, talking with Charlotte Water, Duke Power and with the potential hospitality industry partners. In this manner they can evaluate the pros and cons of pursuing the project weighing the probability of gaining approval and being able to operate a successful and profitable hotel.”
The PDRC was formed two years ago to allow project applicants to receive feedback from actual decision makers prior to filing a conditional zoning application with the town. It’s the preliminary first step in the town’s development approval process, which also includes reviews and public hearings by the town’s planning board, and, if needed, the full board of commissioners.