The largest full-service hotel in the parish closed earlier this month, leaving the St. Tammany Tourist and Convention Commission seeking alternate locations for events planned there in coming months.
The Clarion Inn & Suites Conference Center, located at 501 N. U.S. 190 near Interstate 12 just south of Covington, checked out permanently on May 5, said Donna O’Daniels, CEO and president of the Tourist Commission.
Century Wilshire, Inc., of Culver City, California, sold the 5-acre property on April 30 to Storage Plus of Louisiana, LLC, for $5 million, according to records on file with the St. Tammany Parish Clerk of Court.
The Clarion Inn & Suites featured 152 guest rooms and about 9,000 square feet of meeting space, plus a full-service restaurant and bar. Having those amenities under one roof made the Clarion attractive to both locals and visitors hosting events, ranging from non-profit fundraisers and small conventions to family reunions and weddings.
“The trend has been people looking for all those things together in one place,” O’Daniels said. “We’ve done a lot of surveys with meeting planners, and while they really love our independent venues that aren’t attached to a hotel, places like the Castine Center (near Mandeville) and the Harbor Center (near Slidell,) their members really want their (meeting) space to be adjacent to their hotel.
“So their options are limited with the closure.”
The number of hotels in St. Tammany has increased rapidly in recent years, with the majority of additions coming along the Interstate 12 and Interstate 10 corridors in the Covington and Slidell areas. Prior to the Clarion closing, 41 hotels and about 3,100 guest rooms were available in the parish, said Adam Turni, president of the Northshore Lodging Association and general manager of the Homewood Suites.
While losing the Clarion’s guest rooms is a blow to the local inventory, it’s the lost meeting space that is most significant, O’Daniels said.
“That’s where the challenge comes in for us,” she said. “We had people looking to come to the Clarion for their events, and now we’re having to call them back and suggest other options.”
Turni said the Northshore Lodging Association has to reassure not only visitors, but upper-level management at hotel chains, that the Clarion's closing is not part of an emerging trend. He added that total hotel room occupancy in the parish is up from 67.7 percent last March to 72.6 percent a year later.
"From an appearance standpoint, the Clarion seemed to be doing well," Turni said. "They had a good online reputation, and they seemed to be managed well. When a hotel's online reputation goes down, it's an indicator that something's not right. But there was none of that (with the Clarion.) This really surprised us."
There was little activity at the former Clarion site for a few days after May 5, but the face of the sign looming above the property was removed last week. Earlier this week, a construction fence was erected around the property, signaling that work might be imminent.
O’Daniels and Turni both said they've heard the building will be razed, which also came as a surprise. O'Daniels said “an extensive remodeling” was completed at the hotel not long ago.
Although she’s heard rumors, O'Daniels said, she isn't sure what will be erected.
“I’m told it’s not going to be another hotel,” she said. “So we’re losing 152 rooms and all that associated meeting space. Losing that big ballroom there and being able to have a meal at the same time as your meeting, we definitely will feel that. That’s flexibility that can be hard to find.”
The Tourist Commission said it’s too soon to tell if any upcoming events will be lost due to the closing.