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Community backs Williston hotel idea

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck

About two dozen people listed three dozen reasons why Williston needs a hotel  when the consultant conducting a feasibility study came to call last week.

Michael Hool, a CPA by profession and a consultant for the hospitality industry, met in an informal town hall gathering Dec. 5 to gather input on the need for a hotel in Williston.

City Manager Scott Lippmann told those in attendance that Hool had been given a driving tour of the area the previous day. 

Lippmann said Thursday’s informal information day would be added to Hool’s notes and a comprehensive report is expected by Feb. 1.

If the study concludes that Williston warrants enough hotel traffic, especially Monday through Friday, then the city is prepared to go forward in the recruitment of a hotel.

Navroz F. Saju, president of HDG, a hotel management group in Ocala, was in attendance and said after the meeting he is very interested in building a hotel in Williston if the feasibility reports comes back positive.

Saju owns several hotels in the area that include chains like Howard Johnson, Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Quality Inn.

Equestrian events, golf outings and the area’s two cave diving spots were among events noted that often require overnight accommodations.

Other events or reasons a hotel is needed included vendors from festivals and the Levy County Fair, horse clinicians who come here  for a week at a time to teach their specific skills, the ever-growing and expanding Kirby Family Farm and of course, the overflow from Gainesville during the Gator Nationals and the University of Florida football games.

Hool was also told that many Willistonians are from other parts of the country and when out-of-town company comes, they need a place to say.

Others threw in weddings, birthdays and reunions as other reasons for a hotel.

Darryl  Kirby told Hool that between 2014-2017 several national attention type events, that include a Civil War Reenactment, Treasure Hunters and a model railroad convention are coming to the area. He said rooms would be needed–as many as 50-60.

He added that people came from nine different states for his farm’s Christmas Express.

“I know we need a hotel,” he said.

Several people also mentioned that many travelers enjoy taking the backroads as opposed to the interstate, and a hotel in Williston  would be a good stopping and resting point for them.

Lippmann and Hool said if a hotel is feasible, it will most likely be 75-100 rooms with a small conference room that would accommodate 15-30 people.

“We’re talking about the first hotel,” Lippmann emphasized, adding there could be expansion or another hotel in the future.

The Chamber of Commerce’s Mary Kline said a hotel could bring other businesses and could allow some festivals and events, like the Peanut Festival, to become multi-day events.

Several people asked about a possible location for a hotel. Hool said it would all hinge on where the primary demands come from.

To add your voice to why Williston needs a hotel, you may email Hool at mhool.shr@gmail.com.