Hotel proposed on U.S. 17 site

Mike Bennett

Bennett Hofford Co., one of Charleston's biggest hotel developers, is proposing to build a 150-room lodging on a well-traveled stretch of U.S. Highway 17, just west of the Ashley River.

The company paid about $1.8 million for the property in mid-August, taking ownership of the shuttered Indian Head restaurant and a 0.9-acre lot sandwiched between a Waffle House and the landmark circular Holiday Inn.

Bennett Hofford is seeking a zoning exception from the city to allow the hotel on the site. Charleston's Board of Zoning Appeals is scheduled to review the request Tuesday.

Last year, city officials capped the height of new buildings outside of the historic downtown at 55 feet. But investors who owned the Indian Head parcel at the time sought and won an exemption for a 100-foot structure.

Michael Bennett, who heads up hotel development for Bennett Hofford, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. This summer he said he purchased the land without any specific development plans.

"It's just a good piece of property," Bennett said shortly after the sale. "It's as close to downtown as you can get, and I wanted to own it."

Charleston hoteliers have long benefited from a relative lack of new supply. Room rates and occupancy levels in the area — particularly near downtown — have consistently been higher than national averages.

In the first half of the year, three-quarters of the 13,500 rooms in Charleston County were full, renting at an average rate of $153.43 a night, according to statistics compiled by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. In January, the seasonal depression for local hospitality businesses, slightly more than half of Charleston rooms were full on average, commanding about $112 a night.

Those kinds of numbers have turned the heads of developers like Bennett Hofford. Earlier this year, some 3,500 new hotel rooms were on the drawing board, a 25 percent increase.

The Highway 17 deal won't be Bennett Hofford's only local new lodging project. The company also has plans to build a nine-story 185-room Hilton at the former library site on Marion Square, adding to its holdings in that part of the city. The company also owns the nearby Hampton Inn Historic District and Embassy Suites Historic Charleston.