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New investor named in civic center project
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A new private investor has been selected to fill the role left by Nobel-Investment Group in the development of the hotel/civic center project.

PR Hospitality Group of Atlanta was selected to lead the planning of the project Tuesday by a joint task force of county commissioners, Covington City Council members and other civic leaders.

PR Hospitality Group, established in 1996, will likely spend at least $9 million building an upscale hotel to coincide with the civic center.

The hotel brand product has not yet been selected but Phil Riley, owner and president of PR Hospitality Group, said there is a good chance that it will be a Hilton hotel.

The choice of PR Hospitality Group came after a day of meetings with Riley and members of another group of private investors which also vied for consideration in the project.

 John Boothby, Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce president, said while both groups gave strong presentations, the task force ultimately decided on PR Hospitality because of their previous experience with public/private initiatives.

"When you tallied it up, the tie breaker was the experience in the public/private partnership," said Boothby who sits on the task force.

According to the PR Hospitality Web-site, their projects include hotels and casinos in Iowa, Wisconsin, Washington and Louisiana. In addition, Riley was considerably involved in the development of hotels surrounding the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

"I'm more excited in the project than I've ever been," Boothby said of PR Hospitality's involvement in the project. "It's really going to shape this community's future for years to come."

Boothby said the second group of investors - Navin Shah, owner and operator of the Conyers Hampton Inn, Chuck Thakker and Dr. Anil Desai - were local residents who made a strong case for their consideration.

"The task force was very impressed with their financial strength, ties to the community and flexibility," Boothby said. "We genuinely like dealing with them and like them as partners."

Riley, who is also a Certified Hotel Administrator, said he was made aware of the project by BB&T who encouraged his company to make a pitch to the task force.

"I thought it was a unique project," Riley said. "It's just something I believe would be a good match for the city of Covington as well as my company.

While the total cost of the hotel/civic center project was originally estimated at $24 million, that cost will have likely increased say Boothby and Riley due to the rising cost of construction.

"Those numbers are three years old and the cost has gone up tremendously," Riley said. "To develop a facility like that will mean more money."

The scope of the project includes a 100-room upscale hotel with 6,000 square feet of conference space and a 1,200 seat civic center located adjacent to the hotel where the old county administration building is currently located.

In addition to the PR Hospitality contribution, funding for the hotel/civic center will come from a $5 million Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax allocation, hotel/motel taxes which are expected to contribute $3.5 million and bonds sold by the Newton County Industrial Development Authority (up to $12.1 million).

Riley said he expects the hotel will be a either a Hilton Garden Inn or a Doubletree.

"It's not a Hyatt or Marriott general location," said Riley of the downtown Covington area.

Riley said he has already had conversations with the Hilton Hotel Corporation about the project.

"They're very excited so we'll see where it goes," Riley said. "Hilton Garden Inn right now is a hot brand. Everyone wants one. They're kind of picky and choosy on where they put one. We may end up forced to go in a different direction."

Riley said he would push for a Doubletree because there aren't any restrictions on the amount of floor space which can be dedicated to a conference center (the Hilton Garden Inn only allows 4,000 square feet.)

In addition Riley said the task force would like to see a restaurant serving food throughout the day in the hotel which the Hilton Garden brand also does not allow.

"There are some hills to climb if you're going to make it a Hilton Garden Inn," Riley said. "However if you make it a Doubletree, there are no restrictions. We're probably going to lean that way because the battles are easier."

Over the course of the next three months, Riley said he would be meeting with the task force, prospective architects and builders as well as working on the concept drawings and floor plan for the project.

Among the architects up for consideration according to Riley are Lyman, Davidson, Dooley, Inc, the firm which designed the Newton County Administration Building, and Greg Portman, who has experience with designing Hilton Inns in Atlanta.

"This next 90 days is really a due diligence period of time to bring the architect and contracts together," Riley said.

While no legal agreement has yet been signed between the Covington City Council, the BOC and PR Hospitality, Riley in broad terms sketched out the details of the agreement.

PR Hospitality will own the hotel which will be managed by the selected hotel company. PR Hospitality will have a management agreement tailored to maintenance and daily housekeeping duties for the civic center. The county/city will own the civic center which will be operated by the Arts Association in Newton County.