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New Howard Johnson's to open in May 1999

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by Bryan Smith

SBJ Staff

Say hello to HoJo.

A new Howard Johnson's hotel is scheduled to open in May 1999.

Greg Walker, who owns the Days Inn and Knights Inn South, plans to open the new hotel on three acres of land next to Ryan's Family Steak House on South Campbell. The property used to be the site of Brown's Greenhouse.

Walker will own and develop the hotel along with his mother, Lanora Livingston.

The plans for the hotel are virtually finished, Walker said. The hotel will comprise 61 rooms, meeting space, an indoor pool and spa, and a large breakfast room.

Walker said they plan to add 60 rooms after the first year.

"It's going to be a Howard Johnson's Express at this point," Walker said. "After we do the addition of the 60 rooms, we can make it into a Howard Johnson's Inn."

Walker said there wasn't much choice as to where to build the hotel.

"We felt like there was only one location left in Springfield to build a hotel," Walker said. "Every other place is overbuilt."

Walker and Livingston have owned the Days Inn since it was built four years ago. They also built an addition to that hotel last year.

Howard Johnson's is under the corporate ownership of Cendant, which also franchises Days Inn, Knights Inn and Super 8.

Choosing to build a Howard Johnson's in Springfield was not difficult.

"Most of the franchises in Springfield are already taken," Walker said.

Yet Livingston said when it came down to choosing a franchise, the name was not the thing.

"We don't care what brand we put there," Livingston said. "We're going to exceed any franchise requirements because the public requires and deserves it."

Livingston said the hotel's name will also show the desire to be more than just a stop-off from the highway.

"We think this is a destination property," Livingston said, "and Howard Johnson's better reflects that."

The local hotel industry has grown substantially during this decade. Tracy Kimberlin, executive director of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, said hotel construction rose during the early 1990s.

Much of that growth was because of Branson.

Kimberlin said in 1991, Springfield had 4,057 hotel rooms. By the end of this year, he expects 5,349.

Branson's growth has shown an increase of about 14,000 rooms in that same period.

Kimberlin said the hotel boom in Springfield has not been as large as Branson's, and that is a good thing.

"We've not seen that kind of growth here, and frankly, I'm glad about that," Kimberlin said.

Hotel construction has declined since the early 1990s, and Kimberlin said this fact will help the city.

"The building has slowed down, and hopefully, it'll stay that way for a few years, because we have some catching up to do," Kimberlin said.

Livingston said the Springfield area is getting to the point where there are too many hotels.

"The hotel/motel industry is severely overbuilt, and it is more overbuilt in this part of the country than in other parts of the country," Livingston said.

The Branson boom was key to the overbuilding. "Three to four years ago, Springfield was blowing up because of Branson," Walker said.

But now, Walker said the increase of hotels in Branson has led to price wars, and that can lead to hotels going out of business.

Gordon Elliott, who owns the Budgetel Inn on Glenstone, as well as other hotels in the Springfield area, said the presence of Branson and other tourist attractions have had a negative effect on Springfield.

"I think, in some respect, the Branson hype and the Bass Pro hype is bad, because people build hotels based on gut feel," Elliott said.

Elliott said he hopes Springfield does not suffer from the hotel problems that Branson has had.

"I think Branson will always be overbuilt, and I hope Springfield doesn't become like that," Elliott said.

As for more hotels in Springfield's future, Walker said people will start to realize that the increase in the number of hotels may not be beneficial to the community.

"I think people are done building hotels in Springfield," Walker said.

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