Butler County Times Gazette
  • Hotel developer voices concerns on incentives

  • Johnson has a vision that includes transforming the downtown Emprise Bank building into a hotel with about 30 rooms
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  • A famous but unattributed quote about art says that an equestrian sculptor once told someone he created his art by chiseling away everything that doesn’t look like a horse.
    Tim Johnson gets that and he is planning to open a hotel in downtown Augusta using a similar thought.
    “I learned early in my career,” Johnson said. “Don’t look at what it is. Look at what it should be.”
    Johnson has a vision that includes transforming the downtown Emprise Bank building into a hotel with about 30 rooms. The project would cost between $2-$2.5 million depending on what issues arise during renovation.
    Johnson’s design – completed by Bill Morris Architects in downtown Augusta – include 30 or 32 rooms. His plans include opening up the atrium from the floor to the natural ceiling as guests enter the building. He also plans to utilize the bank’s safe in the lobby area as a store or something of the sort.
    Johnson has a contract to purchase the building and is in the due diligence phase before closing.
    As the Augusta City Council has progressed in negotiations with a group of local investors and a developer from Wichita on a hotel deal on 7th Street near the new Walmart, Johnson has been a vocal opponent of the process the city has used to offer incentives in that situation.
    When those negotiations began, Johnson was the owner of the Holiday Inn Express in Andover. He has since completed the sale of the Andover hotel. When he signed the contract to purchase the Emprise Bank building downtown on Jan. 8, 2014, he believed the deal between the city and developer was off.
    Now, after the council has signed a memorandum of understanding with the developer and local investors, he is still moving forward on a new project that would compete with the incentivized business.
    But he isn’t concerned about the competition.
    “With a project like this in the downtown setting with a lot of character could compete well with a national chain,” Johnson said. “In any business, you have to understand that you are going to compete. That competition may be there from the start or years after you open, but there will be a competition for customers.”
    He is more concerned about competing for the capital to get the project done.
    “There are a lot of good allocators of capital,” Johnson said. “But the other project could complicate that part of the process.”
    The initial deadline for the city to enter a deal with the Augusta Hotel Inc. group was Dec. 1, 2013. When that deadline passed, negotiations continued until a memorandum of understanding was approved by the city council that will be in effect until Feb. 15, 2015.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Essentially, this deal isn’t final until the time that construction is finished,” Johnson said. “It makes it difficult for me or any other project to come into Augusta during that period.”
    Johnson said he didn’t plan on requesting incentives from the city like the other group had. He might pursue participating in the city’s NRP program since that is open to all citizens and not a special deal of any kind.
    He said not using a national franchise and purchasing a building that already exists will control his expenses to the point he doesn’t need incentives to survive.
    One aspect of being downtown Johnson hopes to take advantage of is the opportunity to partner with other downtown businesses to make sure guests experience the entire downtown Augusta experience.
    “I think this would be a good project as an investment and for the downtown area,” Johnson said.
    Kent Bush can be reached at kbush@butlercountytimesgazette.com.
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