A Look at the Compass Hotel: Design and Potential Impact

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This story has been updated to add information about hotel developer Thomas Allen’s run for the vacant US House seat of NC District 3.

On the second day of the Beaufort Board of Commissioners’ annual retreat, development group Beaufort Partners, LLC, presented a design for a 101-room hotel on Cedar Street. The presentation included information on the brand, design elements and building specifications.

The company has licensed a new, boutique concept by Margaritaville Holdings called Compass by Margaritaville Hotels and Resorts. The project is currently in the design stage.

The Company

Beaufort Partners, LLC, was incorporated in 2007 and is owned by Joe Thomas, his son, Allen Thomas, William Corbitt, III, and Frank B. Sauter. The company is based in New Bern where the Thomases own and operate Bridge Pointe Hotel and Marina.

One of the owners, Allen Thomas, is running as a Democrat in the special election for the late Walter B. Jones’ seat in Congress. The younger Thomas recently stepped down from his role as director at the Global TransPark in Kinston. He is also a former three-term mayor of Greenville.

The Compass brand is owned by Margaritaville Holdings. It licenses its brand to developers like Beaufort Partners. This setup is similar to a franchise. Beaufort Partners has signed a licensing agreement to use the Compass brand.

The hotel is being developed by Beaufort Partners, the major owner, along with John Van Coutren of the Overton Group based in Greenville.

The Location

Beaufort Partners owns three tracts of land on Town Creek totaling about 2 acres: 103, 113 and 115 Cedar Street. The company purchased 115 Cedar in 2008 for $2.2 million and 103 and 113 Cedar in 2013 for $1.3 million. The current tax values for those lots are $1 million and a combined $3 million respectively.

The hotel will be built on the area shaded in yellow. The blue area, 208 Cedar Street, is leased by Beaufort Partners, and is slated for use as a parking lot.

A map of the hotel property. The yellow area will house the hotel and some parking, and the blue will be additional hotel parking.

The westernmost tract is currently home to the Beaufort Yacht Basin, which offers long-term leases and short-term rentals of its 59 boat slips. That business was opened in 2016 and is also owned by Beaufort Partners.

According to mock-up sketches, the yacht basin office, which is housed in the old Hardee’s building, would be demolished to make room for the hotel.

Homer Smith Seafood and Docks and Marina are to the west of the property, at 101 Cedar Street. The eastern property line borders the northern end of Orange Street.

Left, the property as it looks now; Right, a rendering of the property as proposed by the developers

Zoning

The hotel property is within the Business Waterfront zoning district. Properties zoned B-W must have a 30 foot setback from the road and a building height of no more than 40 feet. Hotels are among the permitted uses for this district.

The hotel property lies just across the street from the historic district, which includes buildings on the southern side of Cedar Street but not the northern side. There are strict building design rules for the historic district. The proposed parking area at 208 Cedar Street is within the historic district.

All four lots are within the district of Beaufort listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An NRHP designation does not come with any building or development restrictions.

Other than setbacks and height restrictions, there are no design limitations for buildings in the B-W district.

Much of the rest of Cedar Street is zoned R-8, or Medium Density Residential, or B-1, General Business. The town intends to put together zoning recommendations for the entire Cedar Street corridor in anticipation of growth and development in the area. Those recommendations would officially promote mixed use development – both residential and commercial.

The Concept

The developers said the design is in keeping with the Compass brand, but has been modified for the location.

The typical Compass design calls for a seven story structure with 131 rooms. The architect for the Beaufort hotel said that plan was not in keeping with the feel of the town, so his firm reduced the design to a four story structure with 101 rooms and “Beaufort-esque” elements – namely porches and composite wood siding.

Several of the 101 rooms would be suites, but most would be hotel-style accommodations. The project would include a ground-level bar, which may serve a light food menu. The developers indicated it may be a “5 o’Clock Somewhere” franchise.

A rendering of a Compass hotel indoor/outdoor bar

Even in its reduced state, the hotel would stand 44 feet high to the roof and 57 feet high to the top of the cupola. The roof height is 4 feet taller than B-W zoning restrictions.

The cupola and other structures on top of the roof fall under an exception to the height limit for “architectural and mechanical elements and other non-living spaces.” However, that limit maxes out at 50 feet, putting the cupola 7 feet beyond code.

The other rooftop structures, slightly shorter than the cupola, include the top of the stairwell and elevator shaft and a covered rooftop area. That “rooftop element,” as the developers called it, would likely be an entertainment and event space.

Economic Impact

Citing NC Department of Commerce tourism data, and an estimated 187,000-234,000 visitors to Beaufort, the developers said that the hotel will have an economic impact of $17 million in its first year of business at full occupancy.

Part of that impact would come in the form of occupancy taxes. The county collects a 6 percent tax on tourism lodging, which is split 50/50 between the Tourism Development Authority and beach renourishment programs.

The hotel would also generate funds for the Town of Beaufort. Town Manager John Day estimated that the operation would contribute $70,000 a year in property taxes, and said, “Developments such as this pay far more in taxes than they use.”

On the employment front, the hotel would maintain a small year-round staff of about 10 people, and would hire an additional 20-30 employees during high season.

The developers said they expect to fill their rooms with visitors who stay in Morehead or Atlantic Beach by necessity rather than choice.

The Future of Cedar Street

When the new Gallant’s Channel bridge opened last year, the once overcrowded Cedar Street lost its role as NC Highway 70 and saw an enormous reduction in traffic.

NC DOT is still responsible for maintaining the street, and will rehabilitate the crumbling roadway before handing maintenance responsibilities over to the town. There is no definitive timeline on this work as of yet.

In the mean time, the town, in concert with citizens, has created a plan outlining development goals for Cedar Street and other areas of town impacted by the bypass. This “Small Area Plan” outlines a version of Cedar Street that looks and feels like a neighborhood rather than a thoroughfare. It is landscaped, built for pedestrians and cyclists, and lined with both residential and commercial buildings.

The plan includes discussion of mixed use buildings, such as apartments with retail space below, and, specifically, a hotel. At the west end of the street, where the drawbridge used to be, the town has planned a park.

This future green space, Cedar Street Park, is near but not directly adjacent to the hotel, and would not be affected. Below are an aerial photo of the park area taken in February and the most recent design concept for the park. You can see the current Beaufort Yacht Basin building in the upper right corner and Homer Smith a bit below and to the left of it.

Future Discussion

The BOC voted unanimously to hold a public input session before talking with the hotel developers further. That session has been scheduled for 7 pm, Wednesday, April 3, at the Beaufort Train Depot.

The Beacon will expand on this write-up about the project this week in an effort to convey discussion and comments from the town, BOC and give an analysis of possible outcomes.

Correction: A previous version of this article listed the building’s height at 58 feet. It is actually proposed to be 57 feet.