If 2016 was the year of a Waco tourism boom, a hotel boom appears to be in the cards for 2017.
At least 700 mid- and upscale hotel rooms are in various stages of planning, mostly in the downtown and Baylor areas, at a time when Waco has become one of the hottest hotel markets in the state.
In the past five years, Waco- area hotel occupancy has shot up from less than 58 percent to 71 percent, the fourth-strongest rate in Texas, according to the firm Source Strategies. Compared to 2015, Waco-area hotel revenue this year has increased 19 percent, faster than in any other Texas market.
City tourism officials say the market is ripe for a major expansion of hotel space, which would help accommodate conventions, sports teams and the tourists who come for Magnolia Market at the Silos and other attractions.
“We’re seeing more and more higher-end clientele coming to Waco from out of state, coming here on vacation and looking for a higher-end experience,” said Susan Morton, tourism manager for the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Projects now under discussion include:
• A 170-room Cambria Hotel somewhere near the Baylor campus. KB Hotels, which developed the boutique Hotel Indigo in downtown, is planning to include similar amenities but with more meeting space.
• A 110-room La Quinta Del Sol is planned for a recently cleared tract at 11th Street and Cleveland Avenue. The upscale hotel will replace the aging La Quinta on Interstate 35 near Baylor, according to the developer, Raju Patel.
• A 111-room Hilton Garden Inn is slated to open in fall 2017 in Legends Crossing. The developer is Lalani Lodging, which owns the adjacent Homewood Suites.
• A 125-room Springhill Suites is being considered to replace the Executive Inn at 115 S. Jack Kultgen Expressway. Dallas-based DBG Investments has proposed a seven-story structure with multilevel parking, an indoor-outdoor pool, food service and a rooftop deck.
• A full-service hotel of at least 110 rooms, plus a restaurant, spa and conference center, is part of Catalyst Urban Development’s plans to develop to develop the city riverfront on Webster Avenue.
The Brazos River Partnership has shown interest in building an even larger hotel on land it owns next door on the Brazos. Such a project would require downtown Tax Increment Financing Zone incentives, which the firm has not yet requested.
The La Quinta Del Sol and Springhill Suites would replace hotels that have a total of 216 rooms, so they would add only a total of 19 rooms to the market.
Loss of hotels
Still, the pending round of hotel-building would replenish lodging for a downtown and Baylor area that has lost major hotels in the past few years, including Old Main Lodge and Comfort Inn and Suites.
City Manager Dale Fisseler said he is not worried about any glut of hotels.
“I don’t think this is going to be a challenge,” Fisseler said. “I think a lot of what you’re seeing is a reinvestment to handle the tourism we’ve already had.”
Tourism officials said attendance at major Waco attractions more than tripled from 660,000 visitors in 2015 to more than 1.9 million in 2016.
Most of that increase was the result of Magnolia Market at the Silos, but museums and the Waco Mammoth National Monument also saw large increases.
Fisseler, who came to Waco in 2011, said he has been surprised at how quickly Waco has become a travel destination.
“I never really anticipated the dramatic increase in tourism, but obviously, it’s just accelerated,” he said.
But hotel space hasn’t kept up with that demand.
Between 2012 and 2016, hotel revenue climbed 43 percent to a projected $75.8 million this year. In that same time period, the net number of hotel rooms has grown by only 190, less than 5 percent.
Convention and Visitors Bureau officials say accommodating large conventions and sports tournaments is a growing challenge, and at times such as Baylor homecoming and the Magnolia Silobration, all lodging is effectively sold out.
Morton said having several large hotels will help the convention center book larger conventions, and so much the better if the hotels are in downtown and have high amenity levels.
“We also have tons of sports teams that come and fill up our hotels,” Morton said. “We’ve reached a point that they just want to find a room. It’s really good now (for hotels). We don’t want to see any current properties lose business, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”