There actually used to be a bunch in days of yore, but that was when passenger trains stopped daily at the three railroad stations strung along the area where the rivers meet.
Yep, said four hotel/inns and two are already there. Quick, can you name them?
Hawthorn Suites and Days Inn. Even though it is the biggest current multi-story hospitality house around, everybody tends to forget the Days Inn on Turner McCall Boulevard is already downtown. It is certainly as much located there as the announced 81-room Fairfield Inn and Suites at the intersection of Turner McCall and East First Street will be.
If all comes to pass as now firmly planned, in a couple of years available downtown will the roughly 100 rooms at the Days Inn, the 37 existing rooms at Hawthorn/Wyndham plus the 23 added ones there awaiting financing, the 81 at the new Fairfield/Marriott and the 105-120 in a five-story Hilton operation on city-owned West Third Street property on which investors have taken an option. That would be roughly 350 rooms able to handle maybe 700 guests nightly (at double occupancy). That’s a lot of diners, shoppers … and contributors to keeping local taxes down by room and sales tax infusions.
In addition, in the just-wishing stage Ledbetter Properties has two parcels set aside for possible hotels, one at the proposed City Center off Riverside Parkway, the other by the medical offices on Riverbend Drive.
WHILE THIS may leave many in town scratching their heads about where all these guests are coming from, and thinking only about tennis tournaments and such pulling visitors, there’s way more going on. This is new and very strong evidence that downtown, with all the sprucing up, new stuff and public/private investments has “arrived.”
One had to like what Anil Patel of Rome, who also owns/operates the Country Inn and Suites and Holiday Inn Express on U.S. 411’s “motel strip,” said: “I think (the economy) is headed in the right direction.” And, offering further proof of one thing leading to another: “I think people could actually walk to the restaurants if they wished.”
And, imagine The Forum hosting other than religious gatherings and bankruptcy court; Barron Stadium more than Rome High/Shorter football. As Lisa Smith, executive director of the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau, explained: “Additional rooms will increase our ability to host larger groups for conferences and sporting events. Many times, we are unable to place a bid due to the room requirements specified in the request for proposal. Product development is imperative for Rome and Floyd County in order to remain competitive with other cities in the tourism marketplace.”
And, she should have added: Pull ahead of those rivals.
Not to mention, as Patel and others in the hospitality industry know, that there are already often events going on here that book every existing room with the overflow adding profits and tax revenues to Cartersville, Adairsville and so forth.
Also little understood is that it is not just “sporting events” that bring visitors needing overnight or over weekend accommodations. It is the colleges pulling in parents and alumni for their doings, the medical facilities whose outpatients need a battery of tests and whose patients have loved ones who want to be at their side. Heck, it is even the business/industry prospects that need a place to rest their heads after the chamber shows them around to all available sites. And the existing industries who pull in employees from elsewhere for training, conferences and so forth. Let’s not forget that Rome is the national headquarters of several major companies.
IT IS NOTABLE that some rather big names (Marriott, Hilton, Wyndham) have decided to join Days Inn as a downtown “player.” It is also important to note that taking the lead in grasping at the golden ring associated with downtown having “arrived” are largely Rometown boys. Patel, of course. Ira Levy heads the investors in Hawthorn Suites. David Doss is the moving force in the Hilton plan. When opportunity knocks, it is nice to be close enough to hear it.
To this point, this column has been about the present … and the future. Frankly, the past should be considered just as interesting and not continue to be lost from view as far, far too much of the same downtown’s history has been.
Patel may or may not know it, but it would be a nice touch if his future Fairfield lobby offered framed glimpses of this past in its lobby. He’s building atop the long-vacant and highly visible corner site that back in the 1870s held the Rome Cotton Factory. Yes, even though now near-invisible, textile operations were once everywhere.
Actually, the main factory operations (and coal furnace to power the steam engines) were about where the new offices of Garner & Glover insurance are now located, hard by the railroad track spur (and opposite the Rome News-Tribune building, which back then was a hosiery mill). Where Patel plans to build was then alongside South Ninth Avenue and held many of the cottages provided (free) to the 80 or so factory employees. The rest of those were down along the Etowah River bank. The lower portion, now mainly a little-used parking lot, was where the company headquarters and “mill store” selling groceries, etc. to the workforce were located.
When this writer first arrived in Rome in 1986, portions of the old three-story brick structure were still standing with an upper level used for a beer and country-music emporium, called Kathy’s or Cathy’s, that was shortly thereafter hassled into oblivion in what was then, and sometimes still is so now, a grand old Rome tradition. It was torn down shortly thereafter and the foreseen hotel location has been empty except for political placards ever since.
IT WOULD ALSO, the visibility of history not being what it should be in the downtown, be great to learn and share a lot more about Rome’s hospitality industry in the old days. There were likely at least four, if not more, hotels on or near Broad Street when this was the “shopping mall” for Northwest Georgians arriving by wagon and “drummers” (salesmen) by train.
Most know the Forrest, now condos, was once a fancy-dancy hotel with ballroom (still used on occasion). Some know that author Calder Willingham was raised in the Third Avenue Hotel, now a parking lot. And that the Armstrong building, now a residence for seniors, was once a hotel that replaced another on the same spot known as the Cherokee.
If there are the oldest of the oldtimers who can name and identify others, the paper would be glad to hear from you and share such “old news” with the younger community. Just send such memories to any of the addresses listed in the boxed strip at the very bottom of this page.
Even more interesting would be photographs … and memories from those who can describe what those hotels/rooming houses were like on the inside … décor, furnishings, staffing and so forth. Everybody can guess they didn’t have wi-fi, but what were the amenities offered? Ice? Fans in days before air-conditioning? Those new-fangled rotary-dial telephones?
And — ahem! — what might “room service” have involved in those years when Rome was a major tourist attraction because of its houses of prostitution?
Broad Street and vicinity were once the most-happening place to visit, to shop, to mingle and gather for dozens of miles in every direction. It is slowly but steadily becoming that again and those in the hospitality industry (food and drink as well as beds) appear to have discovered this rebirth.
The next step will be to make such guests remember their visits, want to return, tell their friends about the unique, fun experience.
BEYOND the 600-count sheets, beyond drinks generously poured, beyond memorable dining experiences — even beyond the excitement of whatever sporting event was attended or new friends/contacts made or ailments healed — there has to be something that sticks in the mind, can’t be forgotten.
That would be Rome’s remarkably rich history … if it was there to see where it actually was made. There are some nice murals of historic scenes around, but not so much in the downtown or locked away in the rarely-open museum in the base of the Clock Tower. There are olden days photographs on the walls of many locally owned establishments … but not so much in the downtown. There are original old statues … kept alongside the tombstones.
No doubt the city parental units are very, very weary of hearing this from this quarter. However, they need to understand that if Rome’s core — and its many nearby satellite attractions — are to keep pulling in customers/visitors then success depends not only on what attracted them here in the first place but also on what they encounter that makes them want to return when “nothing special” is going on at all.