Six months after it made landfall, Hurricane Florence’s impacts on New Bern’s economy are still being felt throughout the city, but a new development may delay full recovery for some time.
Hurricane-damaged DoubleTree Riverfront hotel is closed indefinitely over insurance coverage issues related to the hurricane. Downtown New Bern will continue to face its worst economic crisis since 2008-10, when access to downtown was crippled by a bridge replacement and road construction projects.
“Business is definitely down,” said Lynne Harakal, director of Swiss Bear Downtown Development Corporation, said about Hurricane Florence recovery. “The best information I can provide is revenues are down about 15-20 percent since the hurricane. In retail, that’s a very large hit. Most small retailers have a profit margin of about 10 percent at the end of the year, so if these percentages continue many of our retailers could be in jeopardy.
“Not having the DoubleTree makes this situation even more ominous. Our downtown businesses need the DoubleTree operational. Furthermore, they need the Conventional Center up and running and a thriving Farmers Market to draw customers to our shops and restaurants.”
New Bern Riverfront Convention Center, a top venue for activities ranging from Marine Corps Birthday balls to corporate shareholder meetings, occupies about 3 acres of the downtown frontage on the banks of the Trent River.
The Convention Center was badly damaged during the hurricane, but is aiming to reopen in the fall. A big piece of its marketing plan has been the presence of a full-service hotel right next door—the DoubleTree Riverfront by Hilton.
Sources said there have already been two cancelled bookings at the Convention Center because of the DoubleTree being closed.
The Convention Center and DoubleTree Riverfront occupy a space previously known as Bicentennial Park and, before that, New Bern’s busy waterfront dating to the 1700s. More
Why does the DoubleTree matter? After all, there are two other hotels downtown, and several others elsewhere in the city.
DoubleTree Riverfront, with 171 rooms, is by far the city’s largest hotel. More importantly, it is New Bern’s only full-service hotel. A full-service hotel offers full service accommodations, an on-site restaurant, and personalized service, such as a concierge, room service, and clothes pressing staff.
The DoubleTree was the hotel Alpha in New Bern, occupying the premiere location along the Trent River between the Convention Center and the N.C. History Center.
Once a full-fledged Hilton and, before that, a Sheraton, the $12 million property in New Bern has been operating under Hilton’s DoubleTree flag for several years.
Singh Investment Group owns one other hotel property in North Carolina (all others are in Georgia), the DoubleTree Oceanfront by Hilton in Atlantic Beach. It, too, was severely damaged by Hurricane Florence and remains closed.
Singh Investment has not answered a request to be interviewed by New Bern Post, and local officials say they have not answered their inquiries since January.
In mid-February, the hotel’s general manager attended a Tourism Development Agency meeting and said that due to litigation with the hotel’s insurance carrier over whether it covered damage from wind-driven rain, the hotel might remain closed.
The hotel owners transferred the general manager and two weeks later laid off the entire staff except the sales manager and a couple of maintenance workers. The sales manager worked to cancel remaining bookings.
This puts downtown New Bern in a bad spot. Take the New Bern Grand Marina, for example. It is under separate ownership, but it partnered with DoubleTree to provide amenities to the marina including showers and laundry.
Then, of course, its impacts on Convention Center bookings, and a large hotel staff that has been laid off.
Then there are other effects. A vast, empty parking lot beside a large hotel is not a good indicator of a thriving downtown.
In short, it puts downtown growth and prosperity at serious risk.
Moreover, the longer DoubleTree remains closed, the harder it will be to bring it back into operation. The DoubleTree may very well go from being one of Downtown New Bern’s crown jewels, to a major liability.
It’s sort of like what the Days Hotel did in Five Points. The Days Hotel went from being in business to derelict to being razed over an eight-year span.
Alderman Sabrina Bengel, when asked what the city could do about the hotel, said, “Nothing. It’s private property.”
She equates DoubleTree with the beleaguered SkySail condominiums right next door to the DoubleTrees and the long-vacant Elks Building smack dab in the middle of Downtown New Bern. They, too, are major properties in the downtown that seek solutions and remain vacant or underutilized.
She said DoubleTree’s owners said they are not interested in selling the hotel, and continue to seek a resolution from the insurance carrier.
Meanwhile, the hotel has not reached the level of nuisance abatement, and is current on its taxes, which total just over $120,000 per year.
While it is true that the hotel is private property, current on taxes, and may not have reached a point where it is a public safety hazard, it is demonstrably true that a vacant and empty hotel has an adverse economic impact on the city.
Cities have used that argument to justify employing eminent domain, the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.
Whether the city has the stomach for that kind of nuclear option depends on how severe impacts become as the DoubleTree Riverfront remains closed.
Pictured here with his “First Mate” Elaine, he receives his award from Commander Mike Ott.
At the recent Change of Watch Banquet of the USCG Auxiliary-New Bern Flotilla, Vice Commander Karl Mielenhausen of Fairfield Harbour was named “Auxiliarist of the Year,” the Flotilla’s top award, for his 16 years and hundreds of hours spent in training the 46 members organization.
Mielenhausen is also Staff Officer Information Systems for the New Bern Flotilla as well as Division Officer of the flotillas from New Bern to the Coast.
The “Change of Watch” process introduced Mike Ott as Commander for the second year, Mike Kent as Vice Commander and the introduction of 16 Flotilla Staff officers for the coming year.
Special awards went to Division Commander Fil Pagano for Most Coxswain hours, Dave Fort for Most Public Education Hours, TJ Bendicksen for Most Patrol Hours, George Maravelas for Most Vessel Exams and Karl Mielenhausen for Most Member Training Hours.
The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the USCG and supports CG in nearly all mission areas. Go to www.newberncgaux.org for more information.
Basics of Navigation, a hands-on class taught by certified USCG Auxiliary Instructors and licensed USCG Captains, will be presented March 16.
The class will introduce you to chart reading, chart plotting and aids to navigation. This full-day, information-packed session gives the new (and not-so-new) boater the skills to: 1) know where you are; and 2) chart where you want to go. You also will learn about the various types of Aids to Navigation that guide you on the water. You may bring your own plotting tools or we will supply them for class purposes.
The course runs from 8:30 a.m. to approximately 4:30 p.m. at the Fairfield Harbour Community Center, Fairfield Harbour Firehouse, 589 Broad Creek Road, New Bern Area. A fee of $35 covers instruction as well as the Boating Skills and Seamanship Manual, an excellent reference for new boaters. Additional family members or guests using the same text and chart pay only $5.
To register or if you have additional questions, email Commander Mike Ott at email@example.com or call (252) 2884856; or visit here. Be sure to include your name, names of family members/guests who may also be interested, and your telephone number.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the United States Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939. Go here to learn more about the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
A one-day course on Saturday, June 2, will give you the know-how to legally operate a boat with 10 or more horsepower on North Carolina waterways. It also could result in a lower boat insurance premium.
Open to all and taught by certified instructors from U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 20-04, the course runs from 8:30 a.m. to about 4:30 p.m. at the New Bern Yacht Club, 1206 Brices Creek Road. A fee of $35 covers instruction as well as the text, certificate of completion and wallet card to have on board your boat. Additional family members or guests using the same text pay only $5.
About Boating Safely will introduce you to all types of boats; boating law; right-of-way rules; safety equipment; loading, fueling and docking; knots; weather considerations; aids to navigation; using charts; anchoring; trailering and protecting your boat or personal watercraft; plus information on potential boating problems and how to handle them. Registrants also are invited to bring their trailered boats to the parking lot for a free vessel inspection.
To register or if you have additional questions, leave a message for David Fort at 252-672-1653; email him; or visit the website. Be sure to include your name, names of family members/guests who may also be interested, and your telephone number
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary is the uniformed civilian component of the United States Coast Guard and supports the Coast Guard in nearly all mission areas. The Auxiliary was created by Congress in 1939. Visit www.newberncgaux.org to learn more about the Coast Guard Auxiliary.