Small Hotels Face Big Challenges

If the coast's mom and pop hotels are to survive Katrina, it appears they'll need a lot of help. The Hotel, Motel and Lodging Association tracks the availability of hotel rooms. Their latest figures on Gulfport and Biloxi's non-casino beach front hotels show 51 hotels are either destroyed or too severely damaged to reopen.

Eight beach front hotels are renting rooms but on a limited basis. Bob Bennett is the vice president of the state Hotel, Motel and Lodging. He also owns Edgewater Inn. The hurricane repairs at the Edgewater Inn are just about finished. Although the property is on Beach Boulevard, it was spared much of Katrina's wrath. The owner gives the credit to Hurricane Camille. The storm that taught him to build well and build high.

"So many properties were built after Camille and were built on elevations which were considered acceptable but not by those who lived through Camille," said Bennett.

Bennett says the dozens of small beach front hotels destroyed by the storm face tough challenges. Elevation work that cost him tens of thousands decades ago will now cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"That's they're problem," he said. "To build 28 feet and build to hurricane specifications which you should do, which I did do, they probably will be priced out of the mom and pop market. So what I expect will be your big condos, condo hotels, and big chain hotels that are corporate financed."

The condos and corporations are already calling the smaller property owners. The Hotel Motel and Lodging Association says at least nine mom and pop hotel owners are at least considering condo offers. Bennett worries, that number will go up unless the government steps in.

"What would help more than anything if SBA would raise the amount of money they'd lend to $3 or $4 million instead of $1.5 million. It would really make it easier because financing would be the key."

Here's some more facts on non-casino hotel rooms. In Biloxi, rooms are down 3,252 to 388. In Gulfport the drop is from 2,468 to 1,099.

Bob Bennett says his friends who can't afford to rebuild can still look forward to a silver lining. He expects the hotel and motel owners to be able to sell their properties for large amounts of money.