COLUMBIA – The construction phase may be finished, but the resurrection of The Tiger Hotel is far from complete.
It's been about four years since the Columbia City Council approved $1.8 million in tax-increment financing assistance for the renovation of The Tiger Hotel, a project that cost more than $9 million, including the purchase price of the historic property.
After multiple construction delays and deadline extensions, a notarized certificate of substantial completion, one of the final steps required by the TIF agreement, was accepted by the city on May 17.
Still, hotel owner Glyn Laverick said big plans for The Tiger Hotel remain in the works. The Velvet Cupcake store will expand into a larger space in the building, allowing more room for customers and more breakfast and lunch options. A new restaurant called the Oak Room, which will feature seafood, steaks and pasta, is under construction and scheduled to open this summer. Laverick also is talking about adding a spa and a rooftop patio.
“I’m fully committed to the hotel,” Laverick said. “I think there’s a lot more to do.”
Evidence of Laverick's efforts are visible at the entrance to the hotel, where construction on the new restaurant continues and the finishing touches are being put on the sidewalk. One thing visitors can't see are the heating elements crews have installed in the sidewalk to keep the entrance clear of snow in the winter.
“They basically will be installing a new streetscape to match what we already have created as kind of the standard for the Avenue of the Columns,” St. Romaine said. “They’re using the same sort of material palette to basically match what we’ve already started.”
The style St. Romaine cites includes wider sidewalks with trees planted near the street and red brick pavement at intersections and crosswalks.
An ordinance to allow the hotel to pay to use metered parking spaces in front of the hotel as a loading and unloading zone for guests was introduced to the Columbia City Council on May 6 and is scheduled for a final vote on Monday. That will allow for improved valet parking, which is one of the amenities that Laverick said makes a difference to guests.
Marcia Howell, who travels from Alaska to Columbia on business occasionally and who stayed at The Tiger Hotel during one of the February snowstorms this year, said the valet service was excellent.
“I had no problem getting access to my car even in the pouring snow,” Howell said.
St. Romaine said the addition of another exit to the hotel's ballroom is necessary before a permanent certificate of occupancy can be issued for the property.
"The project is substantially, like 95 percent, complete," St. Romaine said. "With any complex project, there are going to be a few minor issues."
Laverick said getting the permanent certificate of occupancy, which is a building code matter unrelated to the TIF agreement, has been complicated. Originally, he said, sprinklers were installed in the ballroom to comply with codes. Now, a second exit must be added.
"We're happy to do that," Laverick said. "In the long run that will make it safer, I think."
The Tiger Hotel's downtown location is a big draw for guests.
“I had been in Columbia before and stayed in a few other hotels near the highway, and they were fine,” Howell said. “But this was so convenient to the university and downtown.”
Laverick said he has made an effort to keep historic elements of the hotel while updating its amenities and modernizing the building. The most visible example of the historic continuity is the red neon "TIGER" sign that dominates the skyline. It was restored by the previous owners.
The lobby also has been restored with historic elements, including the original Tiffany-style chandeliers, the oldest mailbox in the city and columns that reach to the high ceilings.
Howell said she was particularly impressed by the feel of the check-in area.
“I think they did a great job of holding onto the historic look of the building, especially in the lobby,” she said.
The two elevators in the original shafts have been refitted with mirrors, which Laverick said was a "trick of the trade" to make the small space feel bigger. From the south-facing rooms in the hotel, there's a view straight down Eighth Street toward the MU Columns and Jesse Hall.
"The best view in Columbia," Laverick said.
All 62 rooms in The Tiger Hotel have been open and operational since February, Laverick said. The rooms demonstrate Laverick's emphasis on amenities and "detail touches." They feature deep tubs, granite countertops, shades that can be opened and closed with the touch of a button, and plush towels and bathrobes.
Jane Wolff, who lives in St. Louis, is an adjunct professor at MU and visits Columbia several times a year. She said the rooms are elegantly appointed and have a modern feel. She's stayed at The Tiger Hotel twice.
“I’ve stayed at every hotel in the area, and this was by far the best,” Wolff said. “The towels were just delightful. I don’t know quite how to describe it.”
TIF is a method of providing public assistance to economic development projects that bring public benefits but would be impossible without the incentives. Through TIF, a portion of the additional property tax and sales tax revenue the project generates is funneled back to the developer to help cover costs.
To receive the money, which is taken only from increased taxes that would be paid over a predetermined baseline, the developer must provide documentation of project expenses.
Because the developer receives nothing that is not paid in taxes, St. Romaine said there is little concern if the additional sales or property tax revenue fail to meet expectations.
“There is no risk to the city,” St. Romaine said.
Laverick also emphasized the absence of any exposure for the city and said he believes some of the public resistance to TIF stems from a lack of understanding that the assistance comes from tax revenue the city and other entities would never have seen if the project hadn't been done.
By revitalizing the hotel, Laverick said, the city also will benefit from the increased sales tax revenue that comes when more people shop and eat downtown.
“There’s no advanced payment to us,” Laverick said. “This will be a benefit to people for decades to come.”
Renovation of The Tiger Hotel originally was scheduled to wrap up in June 2010, according to the original TIF agreement between the city and former owners, John Ott, Dave Baugher and Al Germond. The City Council extended that deadline before the developers notified the city that they’d found someone else to complete the project.
Laverick’s group, Columbia Hotel Investments, LLC, officially took over the TIF agreement in March 2011. A notarized certificate of substantial completion was received by the city on May 16 and has been signed by City Manager Mike Matthes
Since the construction is complete and the hotel is in full swing, the next step is for TIF notes to be issued for verified costs of the project.
Those notes would be paid from two different accounts maintained by the city. The economic activity taxes, or (EATS), account contains 50 percent of the additional sales tax revenue generated by businesses on The Tiger Hotel property. The PILOTS, or payment in lieu of taxes, account, is where the additional property taxes will be deposited, less than a 2 percent amount for inflation.
Regardless of when they are issued, the TIF notes will expire at the end of the 23-year TIF agreement, which started in 2009.
At the end of 2012, there was a little more than $8,000 in the EATS account. A spreadsheet provided by Assistant Finance Director Lynn Cannon showed that no money was deposited into the EATS account in 2012, even though the amount of economic activity taxes had exceeded the baseline. Cannon said that there was a formula error and that an additional $2,000 should have been deposited, bringing the total through 2012 to $10,070.
The spreadsheet shows gross sales on the property in 2012 were about $500,000. A cost-benefit analysis done in 2009 as part of documentation to show the project would not be a worthwhile investment without TIF funding, estimated total sales would exceed $3 million in the year after construction was complete.
Laverick said he isn't concerned that 2012 sales were far short of that projection, given that the hotel and its associated businesses are doing well. The location of the hotel, he said, will help ensure high occupancy going forward.
“The great thing about Columbia, even outside of athletics is there’s always something going on,” Laverick said. “It’s also great for a guest to come here and really experience Columbia – you can’t do that from the highway. It’s not the same.”
St. Romaine said he expects the bulk of the $1.8 million in TIF funding to come from the additional property tax revenue.
Right now, there’s nothing in the PILOTS account for The Tiger Hotel. That’s because the tax bill reflecting the most recent appraisal by the county assessor on Jan. 1 has not been sent. Since that appraisal increased the value of the property from $1.5 million to $2.5 million, the tax bill will increase from $22,000 to about $40,000. The additional money will then be available to finance TIF notes.
St. Romaine said that The Tiger Hotel project has been successful from the city’s point of view and that he was similarly happy with the hotel Dave Parmley is building to replace the former Regency Hotel. Parmley's project is the only other single-use TIF project approved by the city.
“The use of planned incentives is certainly an issue that can be somewhat divisive in the community,” St. Romaine said. “Both hotel projects I think have been needed for decades and over the next few years are going to show tremendous benefit to the city.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.