New hotel could include city-owned conference center

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Public meeting set for June 4

The Powell City Council is set to soon consider whether to pursue the idea of linking a publicly owned conference center to a planned hotel in the west part of town.

At its June 4 meeting, the city council will be asked to submit an application for a “community readiness” grant of up to $3 million from the State of Wyoming; the grant program is administered by the Wyoming Business Council.

The money would be used to construct a 10,000 square foot conference center with a commercial kitchen. The center, with meeting space for 250 people, would be connected to a new hotel that Billings developer Steve Wahrlich and partners plan to build in the Gateway West business park, located off Coulter Avenue on Powell’s western edge.

Wahrlich said this week that he hopes to start construction on the three-story hotel in March or April 2019. He and a partner control three lots in Gateway West, totaling more than four acres.

Powell Economic Partnership Executive Director Christine Bekes said the project has the economic development group’s full backing.

“It’s moving forward definitely and is very active right now,” Bekes said Wednesday.

“PEP has been working on the hotel for 4 1/2 years, since I’ve been there,” she added. “Even before then, the community has wanted this to happen for some time.”

The desire for additional modern lodging was prominent in the city’s economic development plan in 2014, Bekes noted.

“About 1,300 volunteer hours went into that strategic plan, and a couple of things that were pointed out multiple times in the plan were our lack of lodging,” she said. “We have [just] 155 rooms in town. This new hotel will add 70 [rooms], along with 10,000 square feet, approximately, of conference space.”

At the city’s June 4 public hearing — announced in a legal notice published in today’s Powell Tribune — the council will be asked to pass a resolution in support of seeking the state grant.

If the grant was approved by the council and then state officials, the conference center would be owned by the city and leased to Wahrlich’s hotel group under an operating agreement. There would be two entrances to the conference center: one from the hotel by a connecting hallway and one via an outside entrance from the west.

Wahrlich said he’s spent a lot of time over the last several years, working with PEP, to understand Powell’s needs and how his project can address those needs. He said he’s learned there’s a demand for a large meeting space to host conventions, activities and groups from out of town.

“It’s not just about adding more rooms to Powell,” Wahrlich said of the conference room proposal. “This really does become a community property.”

In addition to the large

meeting room in the conference center facility, his plan would call for some break-out rooms in the hotel.

“We don’t have complete architectural estimates or drawings yet, but I would think the conference center project itself would come closer to $2 or $2.25 million,” Wahrlich said.

He estimates the total project cost in the $10 million range.

“With all projects, things have to come together — financing, investors, contractors, etc. As with most developments, if there’s a problem, you try and work through it,” he said. “In the end, the project needs to make financial sense for the community, investors, financial institutions and prospective clients.”

The Billings developer said he hopes to affiliate his Powell hotel with one of several mid-market brands from among the InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton or Best Western. IHG includes Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, among others. Wahrlich is looking to make a final determination within a month or two.

Powell Mayor John Wetzel said Wednesday that city staff are reviewing the grant request.

“Basically, we’ll announce the fact that we’re applying for a grant with PEP and ask for public input,” Wetzel said of the upcoming public meeting.

“Powell’s been in need of more hotel availability at certain times of the year,” the mayor added. “If we can help make that happen, that’d be great.”

Wahrlich is scheduled to provide an update on the project to PEP’s Advisory Board on Tuesday.

(Mike Buhler contributed reporting.)

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