After all, the airport — tucked between State Road 46 and East Lake Mary Boulevard in Sanford — is expected to handle more than 3 million travelers this year, a surge from the 48,000 passengers it handled in 1995. And the new four-story Hampton Inn by Hilton would be the first hotel on airport property.
But now plans for the hotel off East Airport Boulevard near Golden Lake Park have collapsed after the project fell behind schedule, according to airport officials who say they are optimistic about the prospects for an airport hotel.
“We got to the point where they were not meeting the deadlines,” said Diane Crews, the airport’s president and chief executive officer.
She said airport officials are in discussions with other hotel developers.
“There is a significant need for hotels along this corridor,” Crews said. “I do think that one hotel will be enough. But one is a great start, and I think people will see how well it succeeds.”
Besides the increasing number of travelers flying in and out of the airport, she also pointed out that Seminole’s new mega-sports complex on East Lake Mary Boulevard, just east of the airport, also will draw overnight visitors.
She added that several businesses at the airport will fill hotel rooms, including the new Allegiant Air training center scheduled to open this year and the existing Aerosim Flight Academy.
“There are businesses on the airport property that really do need a hotel,” Crews said.
However, Scott Smith, an assistant professor of hotel, restaurant and tourism at the University of South Carolina who lives in Sanford, is skeptical.
“I love Sanford, and I’m rooting for Sanford. But I’m also realist,” he said. “And I’m numbers guy and in the business environment I see right now in that area, I don’t see how a hotel would work.”
For a hotel to be successful, Smith said, it has to fill 70 percent of its rooms seven days a week.
“Even if you fill 100 percent of the rooms for two days on the weekends, it’s still impossible to make the numbers work,” he said. “The sports complex is a really nice sports complex. But the problem is that the majority of those people are locals. Until you get some really big tournaments that draw from outside Central Florida, it’s tough to get people to stay overnight.”
In the coming weeks, the airport will kick off a $50 million expansion project that will add new gates, baggage carousels and security lanes. A contractor is expected to be hired in September.
The airport authority board recently hired Zyscovich Inc., a Miami-based architectural firm, to create a marketing plan for the 489 acres of undeveloped land at the airport.
“The airport is going to continue to grow,” Crews said. “And that continued growth will result in more need for new facilities” such as hotels and restaurants in that area.