Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series. The first part focused on a retail study conducted by Gateway Development Corporation. That story was published in the Nov. 29 Enterprise.

Similar to more retail shops, Blair could support a major hotel chain, said Mike Rooks, executive director of Gateway Development Corporation.

"It could easily support a hotel between 48 rooms and 70 rooms at 80 percent capacity," he said. "A lot of those in the sample were from Omaha, and they were bigger hotels … We have been looking, we have had many calls I think in the last two years from different hotel chains looking and seeing what could be done."

Gateway recently updated a hotel study, first completed a few years ago, around the same time it completed a retail study with national consulting firm The Retail Coach to determine Blair and Washington County's retail needs.

The relationship between retail stores, recreation areas or industry businesses such as Cargill, could be reciprocal with a new hotel, Rooks said, and he's providing hotel and retail study information when he reaches out to investors.

"There's a pull, definitely there is," Rooks said. "Fort Atkinson, Cargill and the car dealerships, even the hospital. All those are draws into Washington County. Sometimes you need to spend the night."

The people coming to the county could be drawn in because of family, Fort Atkinson, retail or their jobs, Rooks said. Though Blair has hotels currently, he said people drawn into the county for all three reasons often stay in Omaha hotels for the hotels' amenities as well as surrounding amenities, such as retail shops.

Many larger area businesses, Rooks said, require employees that come into the area to train to stay at certain hotels. They have a list of places where employees can stay, he said.

"In talking to my investors, several of them have 30 to 40 rooms they use down at Village Pointe or elsewhere for employees that travel in that they train," he said. "If there's not a hotel on the list … unfortunately, right now, there's not that many up in this area."

Some people may be coming to the area to visit family or see Fort Atkinson and other areas around the county. Rooks said sometimes family members might live farther away than where the visiting person wants to go in Washington County, maybe in the Cherry Hills neighborhood in Omaha near the Interstate 680. Or, he said, it might be more feasible to have visitors stay at a hotel rather than in family members' homes.

"Someone might say, 'Hey, my Mom and Dad are still going to have to stay down at Cherry Hills, and they're going to have to drive up,'" Rooks said. "With a hotel, now they have a bigger hotel chain with different amenities, that could definitely help."

Rooks said the location of any new hotel would be up to the specific hotel chain that comes to Blair. Tim Stuart, owner and head developer for Boulders Development, spoke with the Enterprise in July. He said he was interested in opening a 40-room hotel in Blair, possibly near Walmart, but had not acquired any land at that time.

Blair, Rooks said, is the only place in the county the hotel study looked to see if it could support a hotel. He added, however, that Gateway could look at if smaller boutique hotels could be feasible in other communities, like Fort Calhoun, if those communities wanted that study to take place.

"Different people have asked about that," Rooks said. "They are expensive, several thousand dollars. When we get enough interest, we'll definitely look at that."

A large hotel chain would likely be unfeasible in Washington County's smaller communities, but a 25 to 36 room boutique could work, Rooks said.

"Do I have those numbers to support that?Nno, that's just my personal opinion," he said. "I think a small boutique hotel could be really cool in Fort Calhoun, next to Fort Atkinson, and they've got some cool restaurants."

When it comes to both hotels and retail stores, Rooks said, he'd like Washington County to be preparing right now as Omaha continues expanding and getting closer to Blair.

"It's coming this way sooner or later," he said. "In 10 years, it's going to be a lot closer than it is now, and I would rather have us get on the forefront of these things and bring the people in we want. Build that community that we're looking for."

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