By Colin Ainsworth
Special to the Times
CHESTER >> City officials gathered Thursday morning to mark the opening of the new Candlewood Suites at Third and Welsh streets and the end of a decades-long absence of hotels in the downtown area. The ribbon-cutting ceremony by developer Sailesh "Sam" Patel and officials brought a two-year construction process and roughly decade of planning to a close.
“The location was attractive because Kimberly-Clark was across the street … (Harrah’s) casino was in the area and chemical companies,” Patel, head of the Turnersville, N.J.-based VB Hospitality LLC, said by phone Friday.
Patel noted each of the industries draws guests or employees from out of state. “Chester is a fast-growing city. It’s close to Philadelphia – Philadelphia can only grow one way, which is outward,” he said.
“Mr. Patel has been trying to bring this project forward for the last 10 years,” said Drake Nakaishi, executive director of the Chester Economic Development Authority. “The impediment was always that the site was owned by two different entities (Chester Water Authority and Redevelopment Authority of the City of Chester). When they need to come to an agreement on wanting to sell, best use, and price, it takes a while to iron that stuff out.”
A tri-party agreement was reached between CWA, the redevelopment authority and VB Hospitality in 2016, with groundbreaking held in mid-June 2017 on the 89-room extended stay hotel. Located at 351 Welsh St., the building extends east to Crosby Streets, bounded by East Fourth Street and Route 291. The rooms, both studios and suites, feature full kitchens and other extended stay amenities.
City government came to a lease agreement to provide overflow parking in the adjoining city parking lot, according to Nakaishi.
Patel also worked with the city Office of Workforce Development to recruit hotel staff, estimating 90 percent of hotel employees are city residents. “We see employers hiring local folks,” Nakaishi said. “A lot of employers like hiring local people if they have the skill set and appitude – you don’t have to worry about commute times.”
The Candlewood Suites is the city’s third hotel to open in 47 years. Following the 1972 groundbreaking of the Howard Johnson’s – today the Days Inn – in the 1300 block of Providence Avenue, Chester saw no hotel development until the 2008 opening the Best Western one block north.
The sole development of hotels uptown in the last half-century was a marked change from the many hotels and lodging houses once located downtown, including the Colonial-period Washington House – named for George Washington’s stay during the Revolutionary War – in the 500 block of Market Street (today Avenue of the States) and the Colony Hotel in the 500 block of Welsh Street, often host to political visitors in the mid- to late-20th century.
While Nakaishi there was no formal feasibility study for a downtown hotel, “what we did notice was the Best Western tended to be filled all the time,” he said. “Harrah’s, the (Talen Energy) stadium, Kimberley Clark, Widener (University) – all of those have expressed interest in talking with Mr. Patel; some already have.”
According Nakaishi, the opening of an extended-stay hotel fills one void in the lodging demand, both temporary and permanent, brought by economic revitalization throughout the city. “We have a number of other developments which will bring in people doing construction, workforce development and new employees,” he said.
“I think the biggest problem I have is how I can build houses and build them fast,” he said. “A number of developers have floated conceptual ideas and offers to build new apartments, new condos, new housing. Some of it takes a certain amount of (time) to be kicked around before you have something that makes sense.”
Nakaishi pointed to the roughly 500 employment positions anticipated between by the Agronomed Pharmaceuticals facility set to open June 22 in the 100 block of Broomall Street and the Silvercare Nursing and Rehabilitation Campus, soon to open in the former Sacred Heart/Community Hospital site on West Ninth Street.