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MacDill Air Force Base's new hotel is good news for taxpayers, but could hurt local hotels

TAMPA ­— There's a brand new, $42 million hotel along Bayshore Boulevard. It has sweeping views of the bay and with 350 rooms, making it one of the larger hotels in the area. It has its own cafe and a bar that serves local craft beers and cocktails.

But to check-in, you'll need a military security clearance.

The MacDill Inn opened last month on MacDill Air Force Base, after military officials spent 25 years trying to replace its old visitor barracks with a full-service hotel.

The opening of the MacDill Inn, though, could mean bad news for local hotels and business owners.

The Air Force said it spent $10.1 million booking more than 102,000 nights for visiting military personnel in off-base hotels in fiscal year 2014. It's unknown how much of that business local hoteliers will lose to the MacDill Inn, but Air Force Capt. Kathleen Lau said the base hopes to cut off-base bookings by half, or about $5 million.

"There's a loss of business and that's never welcome," said Bob Morrison, executive director of the Hillsborough County Hotel and Motel Association.

Not only that, but those lost bookings could also cost the county hundreds of thousands worth of tourist tax dollars. That's because the MacDill Inn sits on federal land, so it doesn't pay the local bed tax, which is 5 cents on every dollar spent. Visit Tampa Bay, the county's tourism agency, declined to comment.

But Morrison said local hoteliers could actually see a benefit from the MacDill Inn: Now they'll be able to rent out their rooms for more money. That's because those hotels charged a lower rate to their military customers.

"It's probably in the category of a mixed blessing," Morrison said. "That could open the door to what we would call higher-rated business, which would mean more revenue for the hotel."

What could also blunt the effect of the MacDill Inn is that the Tampa-Hillsborough area is in the midst of a tourism boom that has kept hotel bookings robust.

The Hilton Tampa Downtown on N Tampa Street has been so crowded lately that it likely couldn't even accommodate military personnel right now, said Robert Eubank, the hotel's director of sales and marketing.

"The demand is so up in the market," he said. "It's really not going to cause a major disturbance."

But the Hilton could feel the loss of military business during the slow summer months, Eubank said.

While Tampa Bay hotels may lose some revenue to the MacDill Inn, military officials say the base's new hotel will save federal taxpayers millions. MacDill base officials say the new hotel was sorely needed to handle a constant stream of visitors to the base.

"MacDill Inn is one of the busiest Air Force lodgings in the world," said Mili Taliferro, who is in charge of base lodging and general manager of the MacDill Inn. "Having lodging here, we are saving taxpayer dollars instead of sending people out into town."

That's because a room at the MacDill Inn will cost $60 to $69 per night, with an executive suite costing just $75 a night.

Air Force Lt. Travis Jordan said that when he first stepped foot on the base in December, he needed a place to stay until he found an apartment.

"The (barracks) was full and they gave me a list — it had like 30-plus hotels on it," he said. "It's up to you to decide where to go."

Before the MacDill Inn opened, the old visiting quarters consisted of just 105 rooms. Taliferro said those quarters were shuttered when the hotel opened. Since the 350-room MacDill Inn opened on April 15, the hotel already has a 92 percent occupancy rate, Taliferro said.

The MacDill Inn is open to active duty military personnel, those who serve in national guard or reserve units, Department of Defense civilians, military retirees and their dependents.

Lau said base officials don't yet know what impact MacDill's new hotel will have on hotels and other businesses in Tampa. Some military personnel will still check into off-base hotels, depending on their situation. Nor does she expect that adding 350 rooms will add to the base's traffic problems.

The new hotel is one more amenity at the Air Force base that operates like a small town, with its own elementary school, golf courses, bowling alley, restaurants, marina, gas station and a retail store. MacDill employs about 15,000 people and had an estimated economic impact of $4.7 billion on the Tampa Bay region in fiscal year 2014.

The hotel has long been a goal of base officials, but took a backseat to other projects, such as an $87 million medical clinic and a new $75 million headquarters for U.S. Central Command. In 2012, the hotel was back in play, but construction delays and bidding problems pushed the opening back two years.

The hotel is the latest in a $1 billion construction boom at the base since 2007. Next on the agenda: $2 million worth of renovations for other base lodgings.

Contact Alli Knothe at aknothe@tampabay.com. Follow @KnotheA.

MacDill Air Force Base's new hotel is good news for taxpayers, but could hurt local hotels 05/20/16 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2016 10:05am]
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