Wis. builder eyes Latrobe for midscale hotel

Joe Napsha
| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 8:39 p.m.

A hotel development firm headquartered in the Green Bay Packers' backyard is considering building a midscale hotel in Latrobe, just minutes from the Pittsburgh Steelers summer training camp, according to officials from Latrobe and the development firm.

“Latrobe has just so much to offer. It is a great little community,” said Janice Tata, vice president of development for BriMark Builders LLC of Neenah, Wis., about 40 miles southwest of Green Bay.

The company has not set a deadline for making a decision on whether it will build one of its hotels in Latrobe, Tata said.

BriMark typically builds hotels of between 30 and 36 rooms. The 36-room model can include an indoor pool and conference rooms, said Tata, who has met with Latrobe officials and community leaders over the past few months to discuss the project.

City Manager Alex Graziani said he hopes that any hotel that BriMark builds in Latrobe would be “within walking distance of downtown,” which would be a boost for businesses.

“With expansion at our nearby (Arnold Palmer Regional) airport and activity at St. Vincent College, I think a project could work in Latrobe,” Graziani told Tata in an email.

BriMark builds hotels for its hotel franchise, Cobblestone Hotels LLC, also in Neenah, as well as other franchises, said Tata, a Monroeville native.

Cobblestone Hotels specializes in developing, building and managing hotels in towns with a community size of between 1,500 and 15,000 people, she said.

“Our small, midscale hotels are built to help enhance towns by fulfilling the needs of the community and keeping business within the town itself,” Tata stated.

Cobblestone has 21 hotels in nine states in 2012 and plans to develop 25 other locations. None of its hotels are in Pennsylvania.

Rather than selecting a site in Unity where hotels are located along the busy Route 30 corridor, Tata said, BriMark prefers “to find smaller towns that don't have lodging facilities.”

“We look for a little niche,” she said.

That niche, said Latrobe Main Street Manager Nick Felice, includes serving family and high school reunions, weddings and business travelers.

BriMark wants a site that is between 1 12 and 2 acres in size for its hotels, Tata said.

“We think there is some room for that” in Latrobe, Felice said.

Felice declined to comment on what sites the city might offer for a potential hotel because it involves private property owners.

The difficulty in building a downtown hotel is finding sufficient space and parking, Felice said. It may require putting together multiple properties in order to offer the developer sufficient space, he said.

An ideal location would be where the Westmoreland County Community College intends to build its Laurel Education Center on a site between Jefferson and Depot streets, which is in the process of being cleared of debris and buildings for the development, Felice said.

Latrobe is one of at least three communities in Pennsylvania that BriMark is considering as a site for one of its Cobblestone Hotels. The company plans to break ground this year at sites in Erie and Jefferson counties, but Tata declined to say in which communities.

BriMark has been able to grow during the recessions, constructing 46 hotels that it has either built or is developing under the Cobblestone name and other hotel brands, according to BriMark's website.

BriMark's hotels usually cost between $2 million and $3 million to develop, Tata said.

The company employs a financing model that seeks an upfront investment of between 40 and 50 percent of the total cost of the project, she said. Possibly as much as one-half of that initial investment would have to come from local sources, which might consist of a combination of both private and public financing, or all private sources, she noted.

BriMark would make up the remainder of that initial investment, then seek financing, possibly from local sources, to cover the rest of the cost, Tata said.

The local support is important “to make sure that the venture can be successful,” she said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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