Main Steet's new 'bookends'
As we fully enter into 2018, there are two pending projects that I envision as great “bookends,” as if it were, for our wonderful Main Street.
On the west end of Main Street at the “Y” (U.S. 87 North and U.S. 290 West) is the proposed location for a new conference center/hotel project.
The City of Fredericksburg is working with a development team who was selected during the second round of a request for proposals process. The original RFP was issued in April of 2016.
The RFP calls for a full-service hotel with a minimum of 150 rooms and a conference center with a ballroom of at least 12,000 square feet of contiguous, multipurpose space, and 5,500 square feet of break out rooms.
This location on West Main will be able to provide ample parking for hotel guests and for attendees at events at the conference center. Access to the site is currently planned from both 290 West and 87 North. The site is away from the traffic congestion of the downtown historic district.
The proposed conference center will open up new opportunities to host conferences and meetings that are not able to currently meet in Fredericksburg due to lack of enough flexible meeting space.
In 2017, Fredericksburg lost about 60 groups (primarily association and corporate) due to various reasons, many relating to meeting space and facilities, as well as not enough hotel rooms under one roof as required by the group. A small amount of business was lost due to other reasons such as lodging rates being too high for the certain groups, not close enough to major airports and budget cuts in the organization itself.
The goal is to host meetings of 250-300 attendees comfortably with the facilities that they need — meeting space, dining space, breakout space, pre-function space and small exhibit space that can all be utilized simultaneously.
Or the facility will be able to accommodate multiple smaller meetings — depending on each meeting/event planner’s needs.
The Fredericksburg Convention and Visitor Bureau (FCVB) would be focused on booking mid-week meetings and conferences into this proposed facility as well as continuing to book groups into existing meeting space around the city and county.
New mid-week group business would be helpful to retailers, restaurants, attractions, off-site venues and other service providers.
In addition, the conference center ballroom will be able to accommodate local needs for larger event space than currently exists in Fredericksburg and Gillespie County, including abundant and paved onsite parking. Depending on event requirements for bar set-ups and dance floor space, the entire ballroom should be able to accommodate an estimated 800-900 for a banquet type event. Of course, this will be dependent on final architectural designs.
This project also offers the opportunity to stimulate continued infill commercial development on West Main. This could enhance the overall commercial tax base of the City of Fredericksburg, which could be potentially beneficial for residential taxpayers.
On the east end of Main Street is the Hill Country University Center (HCUC) campus site — the other “bookend.”
The master plan now calls for new facilities such as the Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts (TCWCA), a performing arts center, a visual arts education center, another academic building (to include space for a revitalized nursing program), a vocational training center and campus housing.
The site again is away from the congestion of the downtown historic district and has easy access from East Main Street — although in the future, a traffic signal may be needed at the entrance to the campus. As designs for new buildings at the campus site take form, adequate parking will be included.
As chairman of the board of the TCWCA, I am most familiar with that project, so I will write about it briefly. All of the possible new components at the HCUC offer exciting possibilities for the community.
From a hospitality point of view, the TCWCA will play a key role in elevating Fredericksburg’s reputation as “the premier travel experience in the state of Texas,” which is the vision of the FCVB.
As the quality of Texas wine continues to improve dramatically, the expectations of some of our visitors is changing. There are now serious wine enthusiasts coming to taste Texas wine who have higher expectations in terms of the quality of restaurants, lodging and retail.
Once fully implemented, the TCWCA will help to elevate our tourism experience by providing education in wine making and grape growing, local food production, culinary arts and hospitality management. In addition, as local students have the opportunity to attend university classes here that can lead them to a career in some facet of hospitality, they will supplement the local labor force — a critical need as we all know.
Some of the educational efforts at the TCWCA will also have a positive effect on healthier lifestyles for our local residents and hence the interest of Hill Country Memorial Hospital in the project as a partner.
The New ‘Bookends’
Both of these “bookend” projects will have positive implications for the hospitality industry as well as local residents.
My New Year’s wish for Fredericksburg/Gillespie County is that both the proposed conference center/hotel project on the west end of Main and the Texas Center for Wine and Culinary Arts on the east end of Main will move forward in significant ways in 2018!