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Analysis

Boutique Hotel Study for Avalon Has Hints, Suggestions, No Key Recommendation

Boutique Hotel Study for Avalon Has Hints, Suggestions, No Key Recommendation

By Vince Conti

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AVALON – A study of how boutique hotels would affect the borough’s business district hints at the benefits such establishments could have on nearby businesses but makes no recommendation on whether the borough should support development of such hotels.

The business district planning study, commissioned in 2023 from Colliers Engineering and Design, speaks only briefly to one of the areas of controversy leading up to the report, suggesting that any hotel in the B-1 zone must be sensitive to adjacent residential properties. It otherwise leaves that controversy without much comment.

Business Administrator Scott Wahl presented a summary of the report to the Borough Council at its meeting Wednesday, March 27. The council did not discuss the report or the summary presentation.

Background

Much of the debate over the future direction of the business district can be linked to proposals for a boutique hotel in the district. The concept of such a hotel has been a recurring fixture on the Planning and Zoning Board’s agenda since 2016.

A set of plans for a boutique hotel in the middle of the business district received a resounding no from the board in 2016. Plans resurfaced in 2020 but still failed to gain sufficient support.

In 2022, things changed. A more general set of concerns over the business district’s health likely contributed to the change.

This time the board approved a boutique hotel overlay for the B-1 district in the borough’s master plan. By October 2022, the Planning and Zoning Board decided to seek the advice of a hotel and hospitality consultant on the issue.

Members of the public who opposed the boutique hotel concept argued that hiring a hotel consultant guaranteed the report would recommend a hotel.

When the proposal for a consultant came before the borough’s governing body in December 2022, then-Mayor Martin Pagliughi said the consultant would most likely be an urban planner who would look broadly at the business district’s future.

But that is not what the borough did.

The two-page request for a proposal developed by the Planning and Zoning Board said the borough was seeking “a planning study to incorporate boutique hotels within portions of the existing business (B-1) zoning district.” The request did not set the broader business district itself as the subject of study.

The Report

The new report makes no recommendation on whether Avalon should support the development of a boutique hotel or hotels in the B-1 zone.

It also never provides any analysis on the synergies the B-1 district might have with a boutique hotel in its midst.

The report begins by defining the B-1 zone as the Dune Drive corridor from 20th Street to 33rd Street, with an added appendage along the Ocean Drive corridor from 22nd to 29th streets.

Having defined the zone, the report turns to offering a definition, or at least a set of characteristics, for a boutique hotel.

Finding no definitive statement of what constitutes a boutique hotel in hospitality industry sources, the report considered varied sources, ranging from the Cornell Center for Hospitality Research to travel magazines and newspaper accounts. The result is a set of characteristics that appear to fit most facilities that are referred to as boutique hotels.

According to the report, a boutique hotel is small and intimate, with fewer than 100 rooms, often significantly less. The hotel has a unique character, allowing it to serve as a destination of itself. Most of all, such a facility is rich in amenities and is service-focused.

The study considered 10 examples of boutique hotels in New Jersey or nearby Delaware and New York. Among them is the Reeds at Shelter Haven in Stone Harbor.

The review of the 10 examples uncovered ancillary uses for the hotel property that become part of its attraction, an attraction that goes beyond proximity to the beach.

Among those uses were presence of a pool, high-end dining, a bar, a spa and/or fitness center, and beach access with the hotel providing services to facilitate a day on the sand.

Having defined or at least characterized a boutique hotel, the report never identifies any pattern of services from other businesses in the area of such a hotel.

There is a sense that a boutique hotel would have a positive impact on foot traffic and thereby become a draw for the borough, but there was no documentation or analysis of direct links between the hotel and existing businesses in the B-1 zone. The report does not concern itself with the pattern of existing businesses in that zone or with discussions with current business owners.

This is very much a report that has a singular focus on the potential creation of a boutique hotel.

The report is most successful in defining such a hotel, speaking to its uses and amenities, and hinting at the potential synergistic benefits for the nearby business community.

It is less explicit in showing the likely economic benefits a boutique hotel might bring to a struggling commercial district.

A copy of the Colliers report is available to the public on the borough’s website.

Contact the author, Vince Conti, at vconti@cmcherald.com.

Reporter

Vince Conti is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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