Controversial hotel will be built at Fort Lee

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Print this page by Garry Kranz

Fort Lee’s emergence as a military logistics center is an economic boon to the Tri-Cities region, but local businesses don’t like every aspect of the military post’s sprawling presence. Case in point: hoteliers and other businesses opposed a 15-story, 1,000-room, Las Vegas-style military hotel the Army has approved for Fort Lee.

The on-base population, including soldiers and their families, is expected to surge from 17,000 at present to about 42,000 by 2011, says Fort Lee spokesman Keith Desbois. The hotel will be needed, the Army says, to accommodate an influx of soldiers who will train there.

Estimated to cost $114 million, the Army Lodging Facility has been a flashpoint for controversy from the moment it was announced last year. The Tri-Cities Hospitality Coalition, a loose confederation of nearly 200 small business owners and developers, lobbied Congress to kill the project. Those cries fell on deaf ears when a House Armed Services subcommittee gave its approval in April. Then ,an environmental assessment by a Maryland firm showed that impacts of the new construction would not adversely effect the environment, and the base’s highest official gave the final go ahead.

Anticipating Fort Lee’s expanded role, developers in recent years have built a half-dozen extended-stay hotels within miles of the military post.  That amounts to about 4,000 hotel rooms, though roughly half remain unoccupied each day, says Jim Clayton, owner of the 108-room Stay-Over Suites in Hopewell. “Overall, the expansion at Fort Lee is going to be good for our region, no question. But this Army hotel could destroy the hospitality industry here,” says Clayton.

A February 2010 report by the Environmental Management Office at Fort Lee estimates the hotel will accommodate about 70 percent of total demand for lodging needed on the base. Even after adding 1,000 new rooms, the report states, Fort Lee would need about 900 off-post rooms at commercial hotels in the adjacent localities.
However, Clinton and others are skeptical of the Army’s estimates. Linas J. Kojelis, who heads the Hospitality Coalition, says his group has requested records from the Pentagon through the Freedom of Information Act that could shed light on how the hotel-approval process was conducted. “This whole thing appears to have been on a fast track, and we find that somewhat odd,” Kojelis says.

The Army expects to award the construction contract in the next few weeks. The hotel is slated for completion by 2012.


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