By GINA KINSLOW
Glasgow Daily Times
Mammoth Cave National Park invites those interested in proposed improvements to lodging facilities at the national park to express their comments in writing online or by letter to national park officials.
A call for public comment on improvements to lodging facilities at Mammoth Cave was made by officials earlier this week.
According to a press release issued by Mammoth Cave on Tuesday, the national park began its planning in 2010. Public comment was also sought at the time, which revealed people favor clean, comfortable lodging and a majority of people stated an interest in rustic cabins, a variety of food and beverage options and affordable choices, as well as an upgraded facade, landscaping and amenities.
The information obtained in 2010 was used to develop an environmental assessment, the press release stated.
The proposed improvements to the hotel call for new a heating and cooling system, a new electrical system, plus an updated sprinkler system.
The primary hotel structure was constructed at the national park in 1965.
Another section of rooms was also built in 1965 separate from the primary hotel building and is referred to as the Sunset Terrace Lodge. Those rooms will be renovated, some of which will be made handicap accessible, said Sarah Craighead, superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park.
The newest section of the hotel, the Heritage Trail wing, was constructed in 1992 and will be torn down.
“That wing, it was built as a concrete block kind of construction, which makes it really expensive, really hard to renovate,” she said. “It’s got a lot of mold, mildew kind of issues. The rooms are much smaller than industry standards … and because of the cost of renovation and because of lower occupancy rates, we don’t need that many rooms anymore.”
In the last 10 years, occupancy has fallen by about 25 percent, which Craighead said can be attributed to a variety of reasons, but the national park doesn’t have any specific data to explain the cause for the decrease.
The decline in overnight visitors could be that people would rather stay in Cave City or Bowling Green because of the variety of restaurant choices available in those cities, or it could be because visitors to the national park have no plans to stay overnight and are traveling elsewhere to spend the night, Craighead said.
“It’s a combination of things like that,” she said. “Our facilities are also aging, so if folks are looking for a brand new hotel experience, they will go somewhere else.”
The national park partnered with a consultant which works with large chain hotels to determine what types of improvements were needed to Mammoth Cave’s lodging facilities.
“They took a look [and] ran the numbers because we want to make sure we have a profitable contract,” Craighead said, adding money to renovate the Heritage Trail Wing isn’t available and probably won’t be in the future. “We needed to know it was going to be a profitable contract without those rooms and the figures showed that it is.”
The removal of the Heritage Trail wing will leave the national park with 54 rooms, which include those at the Sunset Terrace Lodge, the hotel and 30 cabins.
Making the renovations will be cheaper than building a new hotel. The estimated cost to make the renovations is $3.4 million.
The national park owns the hotel and all of the lodging facilities, but Forever Resorts, the national park’s concessioner, manages those facilities as well as the park’s tour bus service.
At one time, Forever Resorts owned the hotel. Starting in 2003, the company began renovating 10 percent of the hotel rooms and continued to do so over a five-year period.
“We continued to renovate them for as long as we owned them,” said Greg Davis, general manager of the hotel.
In 2008, the national park service purchased all lodging facilities at Mammoth Cave.
If the national park moves forward with its proposed plans to tear down the Heritage Trail wing of the hotel, it will impact the hotel’s revenue.
“That’s about 60 percent of the gross revenue generated from the room area,” Davis said.
He fears it will also affect the revenue that is generated by the restaurant.
Those who come to stay in the cottages at the national park typically don’t eat in the hotel’s restaurant. Those who do dine at the restaurant are people who come to stay at the hotel, he said.
The razing of the Heritage Trail wing will mean a loss of 34 hotel rooms and Davis fears that there won’t be enough visitors staying at the hotel to continue supporting the restaurant.
Davis would like to see a new hotel built at Mammoth Cave on the same site and in the same style as the historical hotel, which was a two-story, white, weatherboard building. He said he feels a new hotel will bring more visitors to the national park.
“If it was built in that style, then local people would love that because people still miss that old building,” Davis said.
The cost to build a new hotel would be double the cost to do the renovations, which started around $6 million, Craighead said.
The facade of the hotel will not change, but facade improvements were included in the environmental assessment, she said.
“We don’t have the funding for them right now,” Craighead said, adding upgrading the hotel facade might be something the national park looks at in the future.
An open house will take place from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 12 in the Rotunda Room of the hotel to provide the public an opportunity to learn about the proposed project, and to ask national park staff questions.
The renovations are anticipated to begin in late 2014 and will take approximately three years to complete. The hotel and restaurant will remain open throughout the renovation.
“A lot of this funding is coming from our recreation fee dollars, our tour fee income. We’ve got to make the money before we can spend it. That’s why we are staging it over such a long period of time,” Craighead said.
Written comments about the draft environmental assessment can be made online at the National Park Service Planning, Environment and Public Comment website at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/maca, or by letter to Mammoth Cave National Park, Attn. Bruce Powell, P.O. Box 7, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259.
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