Overnight layovers at Southwest Florida International Airport may get a lot more comfortable for travelers and flight crews if authorities approve an on-site hotel.
Members of the Lee County Port Authority Airports Special Management Committee heard a proposal Tuesday to build a five-story, 175-room hotel on six and a half acres off of Terminal Access Road, south of the terminal.
The committee gave its staff initial approval to move forward with lease negotiations with BBL Development Group, LLC, the only company to respond to the port authority's request for hotel proposals. The committee and Lee County commissioners, which act as the port authority board, must approve the final contract.
The hotel will have meeting rooms and a restaurant where the local officials can host out-of-town business leaders and delegates, said Bob Ball, executive director of the port authority.
"When people fly into town to do economic development, what better place to do business than in the airport hotel?" Ball said.
BBL, a development and property management company based in New York, has offered to spend $22 million building the hotel and pay the port authority 3 percent of the hotel's gross revenue.
The port authority stands to make between $150,000 and $200,000 per year on the deal, depending on how successful the hotel is, said Ben Siegel, division director of administration for the port authority.
"Continued development of non-airline revenues .... is an important ingredient of a successful airport business model," Siegel said.
Airline flight crews will likely be the most consistent guests at the hotel, he said. Many planes overnight at the Fort Myers airport and their crews need a place to stay. Commuters who come from out of town to catch early morning flights and travelers on Interstate 75 might also find the airport hotel convenient, Siegel said.
The port authority owns 45 acres around the airport, which are zoned for hotel, restaurant and other commercial use.
An independent developer determined the demand for hotel rooms in the area after completing a market survey, Siegel said.
Based on that study, the airport decided to test the waters, he said.
Though the request for proposals to build the airport was advertised in local and national publications, including the Wall Street Journal, BBL was the only developer to respond.
Several members of the management committee expressed concern that there was only one option.
The lack of bids is likely the result of several developers building hotels in the area right now, Siegel said.
"The fact that we got one, we were very pleased with," he said.
Still, some worried that a single developer might have the upper hand in negotiations.
"Ideally we want to get the greatest value for our land," said Bob Taylor, chairman of the management committee. "If the number of bidders we have today just doesn't feel as good as it could, we might be better off to wait a year until the situation becomes better."
In other business, the special management committee gave initial approval for the port authority staff to enter into negotiations with a developer to build a technology center on 30 acres where the old terminal used to stand.
The technology center would be used for research and development in the areas of biomedical and aviation. The port authority has been marketing the 97 acres of runway-front property since the old terminal was demolished last year.
"This has got an ability to trickle throughout the economy," Taylor said. "This is a brand new thing that the port authority is giving birth to."
While Mansur is poised to lock up the airport hotel deal, Airport Authority members actually preferred White Lodging's design proposal. The authority is negotiating to use that design.
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