New hotel part of Leonardtown's revitalization
Executive Inn & Suites replaces Relax Inn in square
Jesse Yeatman/The Gazette
Neal Patel has turned a pile of rubble into a first-class hotel in just a year and a half.
The property in Leonardtown's square, nestled between what is now The Good Earth organic foods store and PNC Bank, has been owned by Patel's parents, Savita and Nick Patel, for 28 years. They operated a Relax Inn hotel there until it was demolished in 2007.
The clientele was "50 percent good travelers and 50 percent [St. Mary's County Department of] Social Services" referrals for temporary housing, Neal Patel said. At $55 a night, it was one of only a few affordable accommodation options in the county.
But a few years ago, Patel had a vision for the 50-year-old property. His parents had moved to Texas, where they opened an Executive Inn & Suites. It was time to do something with the Leonardtown property that would round out the town's vision for a charming downtown district and Patel's own business aspirations.
The family received many offers over the years for what has become a valuable location in the heart of the square, which is within walking distance to Tudor Hall, the old jail, shops, restaurants and a newly revitalized wharf on Breton Bay. But the family was not ready to let it go. Instead, the Patels have turned the hotel into a $4 million to $5 million investment and expansion of the fledgling family franchise. The 41-room, Parisian-style Executive Inn & Suites opened for business last month.
"It's a good real-estate investment. It's something we wanted to pass on in the family," Patel said, noting the importance also of replacing old properties with those that match the essence of their surroundings. "There is so much history here. We can't afford to build a slum around it."
"That's all they know is the hotel business," said Heather Harrison, the hotel's assistant manager, of the Patel family. "It's a great business. [Neal's] been ready for years … to help the town of Leonardtown build up. The county commissioners and town council are really involved. They're really excited. We definitely wanted to go with a different kind of feel. It's a very laid-back, European feel."
While the rooms, some with views of the bay, are complete, some touches still need finishing. Patel is waiting for a liquor license to round out a guest-only bar and lounge and tourism materials and other items to fill a gift shop in the lobby. There is a sauna, fitness center and conference room, all modeled after hotels Harrison and the Patels visited in London and Paris a couple of years ago to get inspiration.
The staff hopes the upscale amenities, Italian marble floors and suites equipped with plasma televisions at rates starting at $122 a night will capture many target markets, including family reunions and wedding groups. The hotel also hopes to draw Patuxent River Naval Air Station business travelers by offering per diem rates and by banking on the accessibility of nearby attractions and the "peace and quiet" Leonardtown offers, versus the commercial hustle and bustle of Route 235, Harrison said.
"If I heard about this place and was coming from out of town, I'd stay here," she said.
"It's a tremendous addition to our downtown. To have a hotel in the town, especially one that looks so traditional, it should be a tremendous asset," said Mayor J. Harry Norris, who worked with the Patels in their selection of architecture and design. "I think it's an ideal situation to stay in a hotel where you're in walking distance to restaurants and shops. Once you register, you don't have to get back in your car."
"We're looking forward to it," said Dan Burris, president of Olde Towne Insurance and former president of the Leonardtown Business Association, who said the hotel will probably bring customers to nearby businesses. "It is sorely needed for residents and businesses."
Patel and Harrison said they've already established business partnerships with companies in the area as a way to offer vacation packages for guests, such as Cafe des Artistes, a restaurant and neighbor to the hotel, which used to send dinner guests to Lexington Park for accommodations but will now recommend Executive Inn & Suites.
"Their network, bringing it here, is exactly what we're looking for," Harrison said. "We want to be able to build the kind of clientele that would want to keep coming back. We will encourage guests to look around [town]."
The hotel is already half-booked for the presidential inauguration Jan. 20. Over the next five years, Patel said he would like to add an all-suites fourth floor with large bay windows, many of which would face the waterfront.
Patel emphasized the importance of maintaining the character of the approximately 30,000-square-foot hotel and to keep its customers coming back.
"We want to keep this more affordable and family-oriented, for everyone that wants to feel like they're in a Ritz Carlton" but without the high price tag, Patel said.