LUMBERTON — If a local businessman has his way, a new hotel will rise where the Ramada Inn stands empty and unused on Kahn Drive in Lumberton.
“I’ve always wanted to get into the hotel business,” said Harry Jhala, owner of the Long Branch Cafe and Country Store on N.C. 72.
That’s why he bought the hotel in June 2016. Jhala, 56, wanted to be part of the business as are many of his relatives. Members of his family own motels and hotels all across the Carolinas.
“If they have their own hotels, I wanted a hotel,” Jhala said.
His dream of hotel ownership almost died when Hurricane Matthew roared through Robeson County in October 2016. The floodwaters generated by the storm devastated the inn as well as Adelio’s restaurant, which was locate there. Adelio’s has since reopened in downtown Lumberton.
The Ramada Inn, which sits on a key piece of real estate at the interchange with Interstate 95 and N.C. 211, has stood empty and unused since the storm. Jhala continues to pay taxes on the inn, which is in disrepair after frequent vandalism and a fire, and the accompanying 5.3 acres of land at 3608 Kahn Drive.
“I’m still paying some old taxes, too,” Jhala said.
Part of the purchase deal for the Kahn Drive property was to assume some of the old tax bills, he said. Those should be paid off by the end of December, or in January.
Jhala should know by then, hopefully, if he has a green light to build.
If all goes well with the application process, the state government will tell the city by mid-December if it has been awarded a grant of up to $500,000 to pay for tearing the Ramada Inn down. The Lumberton City Council on Monday gave the Planning Department approval to pursue the grant.
The goal is to have the grant application before the N.C. Department of Commerce’s Rural Development Office board when it meets on Oct. 25, according to Brian Nolley, city Community Development administrator. With money in hand, demolition work can begin.
There has been speculation among local government leaders and within the business community for weeks about what the plans are for the property. Development plans were the subject of a brief conversation during the Aug. 8 meeting of the City Council’s Council Policy Committee.
Bob Moore, director of the Small Business Center at Robeson Community College, told council members that Jhala plans to build a motel and a restaurant and then to add a second motel, two more restaurants and, eventually, a convention center.
“They’re going to have to haul a lot of dirt in there,” Councilman Chris Howard said.
“A lot of dirt,” Moore said.
The plan is to develop the property in phases, Mangesh Patel said.
Patel, 64, of Atlanta, is Jhala’s business partner in the development of the Khan Drive property. He is a real estate developer and owner of Karma Developers LLC.
The first section will have a hotel, with 100 or more rooms, and one to three restaurants, Patel said. What hotel and what restaurants will be built is not known, yet.
“We don’t have franchise agreements, yet,” Patel said.
He and Jhala will consult with community and business leaders before deciding what will be built in subsequent sections, Patel said. They first want to determine the community’s needs and what the community will support.
Development plans will be presented to the city government after the old structure has been demolished and the site prepared for development. No construction can take place until the city approves the plans, Jhala said.
The city will need only to make sure Jhala’s plans do not violate existing zoning regulations and meet regulations governing landscaping, drainage and other land use practices. Jhala and Patel would need to seek a conditional-use permit if they plan to include a restaurant with late hours of operation or a bar or nightclub.
Jhala and Patel aren’t ready to speak about their plans in that great of detail.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]