A plan for a six-story, 93-room Hilton Garden Inn on the west side of Bienville Square is working its way through the city’s approval process and may break ground as soon as this fall, according to documents submitted by the developer to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. On Monday, the board approved a variance that would allow access to dumpsters on the site by permitting trucks to maneuver in a public right-of-way.
Citing the early stage of the proposal, developer Michael Cowart of Cowart Hospitality Services declined to speak about the hotel, but paperwork submitted to the board indicates he is interested in building the hotel on a 1.3-acre site at the corner of Conception and St. Francis streets that currently serves as a parking lot.
The requested waiver would allow a dumpster enclosure to face Joachim Street, where it could be serviced by garbage trucks. The lot is owned by Cawthon Real Estate Corp. and is probably best known as the location of the R&B stage for Bayfest each year. Cawthon currently leases the property to a parking contractor.
Bayfest organizer Bobby Bostwick said he’s spoken with Cowart and has been assured any development will not affect this year’s festival.
“I’ve spoken with Michael Cowart and I consider him a great friend and a great developer and he told me it will not change any plans we have for this year,” Bostwick said. “After that, we may have to look for a new staging area or in the worst case scenario eliminate a stage, but that is not something I’m thinking about right now.”
Cowart Hospitality Services is the same developer that recently constructed the 150-room Hampton Inn and Suites on Royal and Conti streets and the Candlewood Suites on Royal and St. Louis street.
Dave Randel, director of the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, called Cowart’s latest proposal “exciting.”
“I’m ecstatic that it is coming,” he said, adding that about 1,100 of the city’s 6,000 hotel rooms are downtown.
Randel said at 55 percent, hotels in downtown Mobile have the highest occupancy rate in the state but it is still below the national average of 63 percent occupancy. He said the new hotel will be a particular asset during larger conventions, when as many as 3,000 attendees flood downtown.
Cowart’s plans call for a 94,000 square foot building fronting Conception Street with 77 parking spaces behind it. He noted the limited space will not provide room for a swimming pool and it will be among the smallest Hilton Garden Inns the chain allows. Hilton Garden Inns typically have between 100-200 rooms, according to an analysis by the Mobile Planning Department.
City Councilman Levon Manzie noted in a Facebook post that he met with Cowart Monday and learned the hotel would have a rooftop terrace and lounge.
“I’m extremely proud to have this investment in District 2’s Bienville Square!” Manzie wrote.
Regarding the variance, the department noted other hotels downtown have been granted similar waivers and suggested the board approve the request as long as the developer adds more landscaping and fencing to conceal the dumpsters.