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Fort Drum hotel would enter an already ‘saturated’ market

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A Candlewood Suites hotel may be constructed on Fort Drum, just a short distance from where one exits off post near the Walmart Supercenter on Route 11 in the town of LeRay.

The new Candlewood Suites would be built as a part an Armywide initiative to improve on-post lodging throughout the country, said Gary S. DeYoung, executive director of the Thousand Islands Tourism Council.

Plans also call for turning the Inn at Fort Drum, the 111-room facility that the Army runs on post, into a Holiday Inn Express, he said, adding that details are still sketchy on both projects.

Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said the Army wants to develop a partnership with the private sector to add more on-post lodging and improve facilities throughout the country.

Under the privatized Army lodging program, about 17,000 hotel rooms now operated by the Army nationally would be turned over to the private sector and then renovated by 2014. By privatizing, the Army would save $1 billion and the 20 years it would take to complete all of that work. But the potential of a new hotel being built at Fort Drum is making some people involved in the hospitality industry nervous. They fear an increase in rooms in an already saturated market.

Alexandria Bay developer Patrick M. Donegan is so concerned about the situation he has asked the Watertown City Council to lobby against the program. He contends his hotels would not be able to compete on the same playing field because the on-post facilities would not be required to charge the Jefferson County’s 3 percent bed tax.

“We’re definitely saturated,” Mr. Donegan said, adding that the area’s occupancy rate hovers between 50 percent and 60 percent.

Mr. Donegan owns a 132-room Hilton Garden Inn that opened last year and a Holiday Inn Express in City Center Plaza, off Arsenal Street and near Interstate 81.

When the 106-unit Fairfield Inn opens on Commerce Drive this summer, it will be eighth new facility — with all eight adding 670 rooms — that has been built in the past six years. An additional 120 to 140 rooms may join them if a $30 million riverfront luxury hotel is built along the St. Lawrence River in Clayton.

“The community is already meeting the demand,” Mr. DeYoung said.

The owners of the Candlewood Suites in LeRay, Hemisphere Management in Rochester, were particularly upset about that specific hotel chain because Intercontinental Hotel Group PLC, Great Britain, had promised them it would not bring another Candlewood Suites to this market, Mr. DeYoung said.

Intercontinental, the world’s largest hotel conglomerate, which owns Candlewood Suites and seven other Holiday Inn brands, has been involved in other private Army lodging projects, Mr. Donegan said.

Lend Lease, a multi-international property management firm that has been a major player in developing Fort Drum Mountain Community Homes, also has been mentioned as possibly being involved in the projects.

So far, nothing has been decided, Mr. McLaughlin said. A 30-day public comment period on the two projects will be held this summer.

And he does not know whether the organiation will support the plan until he learns about it.

“I think we’re being served by the community,” he said. “I don’t think it’s needed.”

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