E.B. chamber sees need for 2 hotels

EAST BRUNSWICK — Two new hotels proposed to be located in the township will be able to co-exist with the four hotels currently along or near the Route 18 corridor, local business officials believe.

Nancy Ostin, president of the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the two hotels, a Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Suites, would not saturate the Route 18 market if they were to be approved and built.

"I believe there is a need for them. Hotels are long-term investments," she said. "A lot of the need is business travel."

The four hotels already located in the area include the Hilton in the Tower Center, Motel 6, Ramada Inn and McIntosh Inn.

The East Brunswick Zoning Board of Adjustment has held a preliminary hearing on the application to build the Holiday Inn Express. That hotel would be built on Naricon Place, behind the Tower Center. It would be a 58-foot-high building with 112 rooms. The application requires that the board grant several variances from township zoning regulations.

The board has yet to hold a hearing on the application to build the Comfort Suites. The application calls for a 66-room three-story hotel to be located near the jughandle at the intersection of Old Bridge Turnpike and Route 18.

Both hotels, proposed for lots of less than 2 acres, would need use variances from the board because they are in areas where the minimum required lot size for a hotel is 5 acres.

The next hearing on the Holiday Inn Express hotel is scheduled for Feb. 1. A date is yet to be set for a hearing on the Comfort Suites application.

Carl Spataro, director of economic development for Middlesex County, said there is room for all six hotels because the new ones would have a specific niche.

"The need is the type of hotels. Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Suites are basically meant for business travelers during the week," he said.

The hotels are favored by those travelers because of the amenities they offer — modem and fax hookups in rooms and sometimes desks, he said.

Their rates are another way they are differentiated. He described both proposals as "middle of the road" hotels.

"The new hotels are for a sales-level person who may be in town for a week," he said. "Those two products [hotels] are not full-service hotels usually."

"What’s being built a lot now are suite-type hotels to make business travelers feel more at home. [The rooms] might even have a desk in there," he said.

And on weekends, area hotels are busy with customers attending sporting and cultural events at Rutgers University and the downtown New Brunswick area.

He described the Hilton as a very "high-end" hotel, which is used by many people who do business in the offices at the Tower Center.

"It’s a convenience factor," he said. "It also has a lot of meeting space."

The McIntosh Inn was built 10 to 15 years ago, and serves people who want a less expensive hotel, he said.

"The Motel 6 and McIntosh are more like economy-type hotels," he said. "The Ramada is a full-service hotel, so it’s more costly than these business travel-oriented hotels."

Despite a sluggish economy and the fact that Americans are traveling less, Spataro said the new hotels would turn a profit because they are meant to accommodate business travel. He said that while tourism is down, corporate travel is not.

"Their business depends on it," he said.

Ostin said studies were done by the hotels’ developers to determine if the area would be well-suited for the new hotels. Those studies were done over a long period of time.

"They would not build them unless they knew the market was there," Spataro said.

Ostin pointed out that, if the applications are accepted, the hotels would still not be built and ready for operation for more than a year.

"They are looking at the investment over the long term," she said, adding that the hotels are looking at what economic conditions could be in five or 10 years.

"No one said on Sept. 12, ‘Let’s build some hotels.’ They’re looking at down the road where business will be, and I think that should be a confidence builder for businesses and residents," she said.

—Vincent Todaro