A developer has put on hold plans to build a Hilton Garden Inn in Kent on the city-owned Naden property.
The Kent City Council unanimously approved in January a purchase and sale agreement with Boise, Idaho-based Braintree Hospitality to sell 2.2 acres on the south end of the 7.7-acre city property for $2.6 million so the group can build a four-story, 136-room hotel on the vacant property.
But that deal is far from done. The council found out during its July 7 remote meeting that Braintree hasn’t paid a $150,000 franchise right to Hilton, one of the conditions of the sale.
“Braintree has paused and not signed that,” said Bill Ellis, city economic development manager, in a report to the council. “They pursued SBA (Small Business Administration) funding. Their revenues declined, so they put a pause on construction.”
Ellis said COVID-19 has made this a rough year on the hospitality industry. He said some local hotels reported business down as much as 98 percent.
“Do you see this going forward?” Councilmember Bill Boyce asked Ellis about the hotel project on the Naden land, which is just north of Willis Street (aka State Route 516) and east of Highway 167.
“It’s too hard to say with where we are at now,” Ellis responded.
Braintree did not respond to emails from the Kent Reporter about their hotel plans for the Naden property.
A closing date of March 25, 2021, has been set for the sale. Braintree, which received franchise approval from Hilton, still must pay that fee and go through the city permit process and negotiate a development agreement with the city that will include specific hotel design, specific road design, a construction timeline and easement to the city for the road.
City officials agreed to put in a roundabout at the intersection of Fourth Avenue South and Willis Street in order to improve access to the Naden property and a future hotel. Construction on the roundabout recently started and work is expected to be completed this fall on the $4.75 million project, which will include new sidewalks, crosswalks, pedestrian lighting, landscaping and art installations to spruce up the gateway to downtown.
A $3 million state Department of Transportation grant will help fund construction. The rest of the cost will be paid for by city B&O, utility and drainage tax funds, according to city documents. The existing signalization intersection will be replaced with a two-lane roundabout.
The state Department of Transportation required the city to build a roundabout along State Route 516 (aka Willis Street) in exchange for allowing the city to extend Naden Avenue and allow right in/right out traffic access from the Naden site to Willis Street. City officials wanted the access to attract developers to potentially purchase the city property, which sits just northwest of the Fourth and Willis intersection. The only current access to the Naden property is from West Meeker Street to the north.
Ellis said interest remains from developers in acquiring 5 acres on the north end of the property.
“The northern 5 acres may still have interest in development even now,” Ellis said. “Deals are still happening in industrial development, projects are moving forward. We opened up manufacturing in the downtown area (with zoning changes) that may still attract interest.”
The city started to purchase property along Naden Avenue in 2006 with plans to build an aquatic center. But after spending $8 million to acquire properties, the council later abandoned that proposal because of the bad economy and high costs of a new pool. City leaders later worked out an agreement with the YMCA to build a facility on the East Hill that opened in September. The council agreed in 2016 to try to sell the Naden property.