Pawhuska city government and the Chamber of Commerce have joined forces to offer developers an incentive to build a brand-name hotel in the downtown commercial district.
Joni Nash, executive director of the Pawhuska Chamber, said the proposed incentive is a parcel of city-owned land directly behind the Chamber building at 210 West Main Street. The parcel is most of an acre, she said.
Nash said the project objective is to encourage a developer to build a 50-plus room hotel downtown that would have the capacity to offer lodging to tour bus groups.
“Our aim is to get what we’re missing right now,” she said. “These tour buses that you see driving through town will be able to stay.”
Pawhuska will also be more likely to attract convention groups, Nash said. The American National CattleWomen held an event in Pawhuska in the spring of 2019, but that was only after the Chamber worked with the organization to piece together the right combination of accommodations.
“They were actually going to another town,” she said.
Nash said the parcel that Pawhuska will be offering to developers is larger than many lots on which hotels have been developed in Tulsa, and she clarified that the city and the chamber anticipate a new, brand-name hotel would not detract from the strength of smaller lodging businesses, particularly the bed-and-bath businesses, but would add to the community’s ability to attract visitors.
City Manager Dave Neely agreed with Nash on that point.
“We’re talking about different groups,” he said, differentiating between bed-and-bath customers and the large tour bus groups anticipated to fill up a brand-name hotel. As Pawhuska continues to grow, it may need more than one brand-name hotel to cater to the tour industry, he said.
“I believe as this community grows, there will be room for another one,” Neely said. A 2018 traffic count by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation showed a daily average of some 5,000 vehicles in downtown Pawhuska, Neely said, and he added that he anticipates another count for 2019 will show an increase.
Neely said Pawhuska now generates a year-round stream of visitors, rather than a seasonal one.
Mike Tolson, a lawyer who formerly served on the chamber board and is now a member of the local Board of Education, said the incentive parcel is about two-thirds of an acre. A number of Tulsa hotels have been developed on lots that are half an acre or a third of an acre in size, he said.
He, too, emphasized the desire to attract overnight stays by tour bus groups.
“Pawhuska has made a lot of money for Bartlesville. That’s just the reality,” Tolson said. He explained that the idea for a branded hotel of 50 or more rooms has been around for a while now in Pawhuska.
He recalled a community survey conducted a number of years ago, before The Pioneer Woman Mercantile became a leading element of the downtown scene, that showed the development of a branded hotel was considered by local residents to be of utmost importance. Tolson was serving on the Chamber board at the time. That community survey was followed by a research study that looked at the Pawhuska market. Tolson noted that the provision of a development incentive has come up before, as well.
“It has been a consistent ask by hotel developers,” he said.
“We need a big block (of rooms) to get those big gatherings like ropings, and the bus tours,” Tolson said. He added that developers have indicated an interest in building downtown, near The Mercantile and other attractions, rather than along the highway to the east of downtown. Developers have mentioned the importance to many guests of being able to easily walk from their hotel to nearby attractions.
Alan Brown, of Blue Sky Bank,who currently serves on the chamber board, said he thinks the collaboration by the city and the chamber on this project is exciting.
“It’s something this town has lacked for a long time,” Brown said regarding a name-brand hotel. “So many people are not able to stay here in town.”
Steve Tolson, of the Tolson Agency, which provides insurance and real estate services, voiced optimism about the project.
“We’re encouraged by the future prospect of more commercial growth within the Pawhuska area,” he said. “In today’s world, it’s not unusual to have public and private resources come together to make a deal happen.”
Jeff Bute, president of the chamber board, said the incentive project falls clearly within the scope of the chamber’s mission, and he praised the energy and determination that Nash has brought to the formulation of the project.
“It’s going to be a big plus for Pawhuska and for Osage County, as well as for Osage County tourism,” he said.
Kelly Bland, director of Osage County tourism, in July told county commissioners that lodging tax receipts had increased dramatically during the past three fiscal years. Receipts were about $76,000 for 2016-17, she said. That number jumped to about $108,000 for 2017-18, she said, and collections for 2018-19 were in the neighborhood of $200,000. The county levies a five% lodging tax to support tourism development.
“I believe this decision by the city and Chamber officials to be a win-win for all entities involved,” Bland said. “While lodging tax revenues continue to rise, it is not due to the tour bus industry. For Pawhuska to be able to lodge some of the tour buses coming through, everyone would benefit all the way around.”