Business at Belmont County's hotels continues to boom - so much so, in fact, that a new 55-room hotel is planned for construction east of St.Clairsville and hopefully will be accepting customers before the end of this year.
Demolition is scheduled to begin tomorrow on the 19-room Relax Inn, on historic National Road at the top of Blaine Hill to clear the 1.4-acre area for construction of a 55-room Comfort Inn.
Actual construction is expected to begin in mid-April, according to Robert Patel, owner of the Relax Inn which has been in operation for 52 years. It was constructed in 1960.
Although he has been planning the new facility for two years, the sudden emergence of the oil and gas exploration in the county and the anticipated upswing in business throughout the area has spurred him to move as quickly as possible on the new project.
"We're going to start construction in mid-April. It is going to be a three-story building. I hope to be in there by October," Patel asserted. "It all depends on the weather."
He said B&B Construction Co. of Belmont will begin demolition of the present facility on Monday. Last week, crowds of people converged on the vacated Inn to purchase various items from the rooms before the demolition begins.
For the past 14 years Patel has been owner/operator of the Holiday Inn Express also located on historic National Road about a mile west of where the new Comfort Inn will be located. His Holiday Inn, along with the other major hotels in the county, has enjoyed a major increase in its occupancy rate due in large part to the influx of officials and workers involved in the Marcellus and Utica shale operations which are expanding daily in Belmont County.
Millions of dollars are being poured into the economy of the county as a result of that business increase. During the past five months from October through February, for example, the hotels have been operating at an occupancy rate of 84 percent, which is well above the rate during a comparable period in previous years.
William Goff, manager of the America's Best Value Inn on National Road east of St. Clairsville, compiled the figures for the five-month period and admitted the occupancy rate during that mostly wintry period is well above the number of tourists normally attracted during those months.
He offered two examples of revenue derived from that increased business. During those five months, 66,608 of the 80,811 rooms available at the seven major hotels in the county were sold. At a rate of $65 per room, $5,369,975 was collected. At a rate of $50 per room, the rooms sold brought in $3,330.400.
Anyway one looks at those figures, it boils down to economically good business for Belmont County. Those figures are based on activity at America's Best Value Inn, Red Roof Inn, Days Inn, Hampton Inn, Super 8, Holiday and Fairfield inns. Activity at six smaller motels and bed and breakfast facilities are not included.
An even brighter outlook for the future was offered by Goff, who noted, "We're off to an even better start with a 97 percent occupancy rate so far in March."
As private contractors prepare to start what has been labeled a multi-million dollar renovation of the Ohio Valley Mall, other developments are taking place at the shopping center which were not disclosed during the Cafaro Co. hierarchy's recent visit to the retail center. What's happening has people playing a guessing game once again.
Last week the Norris Demolition Co. of St. Clairsville nearly completed demolition of the former Rax Restaurant building, which has been vacant for around a dozen years. The building itself is gone. "We just have to take out a few light poles and do some cleaning up," said Monty Norris, head of the demolition firm.
Also removed by the razing firm was a rather large sign along the Ring Road that identified the location of Rax Restaurant. In its place another sign supported by a sturdy pole bears the message: "Outparcel for Lease." And it instructs interested individuals to contact the Cafaro real estate department by telephone or by Internet.
While that demolition was going on, the Cumberland Trail Fire Department was inside the mall on a training session in preparation for the renovation work to be done.
"The contractor's work will involve removing the ceiling, changing electrical systems and other work that will cause a lot of down time for the sprinkler system," Fire Chief Ken Saffell explained.
The firefighters were busy laying hoses throughout the corridors and measuring distances the hoses would have to be stretched in the event of an emergency.
Safell stressed, "We just want to be ready if anything happens."
It was around seven years ago that the Belmont County commissioners received a grant in the amount of $679,000 for renovation of the old sheriff's residence that is linked to the century old and vacated Belmont County jail. Since then there has been planning and negotiations to get the project started. That time has finally come. At the commission's meeting this week the contract will be awarded for the start of that project. The Waller Corp. of Washington, Pa., submitted the low bid of $640,540 for the renovation work at the second bid opening session held on March 1. Their bid was one of six received. The first bid session in February resulted in all five bids being rejected because they exceeded the money available for the work.
One local political race in last Tuesday's primary election has to stand out as very unique and intriguing. Candidates seeking election to the same office - even though they are registered in the same political party - usually are rather cold and indifferent to their opponent. They may have differences of opinion on various issues and most often bring out the demeaning side of their opponent.
Nothing like that existed between Katherine Curfman and Mike Bianconi in their quests to seek the Democratic nomination for Belmont County treasurer.
They actually campaigned for each other.
"When I talked to people about the election, I asked them to vote for me and if they didn't vote for me to vote for Kathy," Bianconi told me as the votes were being tabulated at the Belmont County Board of Elections.
Curfman later confirmed what he said.
"I've only known Mike for a couple of months. He was up front with me and honest." So they agreed help each other while campaigning to help themselves. "I told people to vote for Mike if they did not vote for me." In the end she was the winner and Bianconi attended her victory party.
But that didn't end their commitment to each other. Jennifer Yuhase, one of her campaign workers revealed "they went out that night and picked up each other's campaign signs."
There's a going to be a day for the kids on Saturday when a "kids' fest" is held at the Ohio Valley Mall. One highlight of the day will be the arrival of the Easter Bunny at 11 a.m. and children who come to see the bunny will receive a free treat courtesy Garfield's Restaurant. Then the Easter Bunny will be available for photos every day until April 8.
Immediately after the arrival of the bunny, the "kids fest" events will be held from noon to 3 p.m. and will include free crafts from the Crafts 2000 store and they can enjoy decorating their own cookie purchased from the Great American Cookie outlet to take home. Other mall merchants will be providing fun activities.
The JB Green Team from the Jefferson-Belmont County Solid Waste Authority, will also be on hand to educate the children about the importance of recycling.
Today is the day we lose an hour's sleep that won't be regained until fall when Daylight Savings Time comes to an end. So don't forget to move clocks forward one hour.
Al Molnar can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org