(SAVANNAH, GA) Members of the development team and financial consulting firm overseeing the Hutchinson Island convention center hotel project will hold a panel discussion at the Exchange Club of Savannah’s weekly luncheon on Wednesday, April 13 at noon. The discussion will include a question-and-answer session with members of the panel and a video presentation titled “Savannah: Continuing the Experience.” The meeting is open to Exchange Club members and will be streamed live for the public at www.livestream.com/openforbusiness .

Plans to expand the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center campus to include a 500-room hotel on Hutchinson Island were announced last year, and the Georgia International and Maritime Trade Center Authority selected Journeyman Austin Holdings, Inc. as the developer.

Panelists will include Ruben Rodriguez, Journeyman Austin Holdings’ vice president, and Peggy McCue, the company’s director of client services, as well as Bob Swerdling, president and founder of Swerdling and Associates.

“We appreciate the opportunity to meet with Savannah’s business leaders and provide further details regarding this project,” says Rodriguez. “Savannah remains a top attraction for conventions. It truly is a jewel known nationally. Our job now is to continue to work with the Authority to make the desire for a dedicated convention center hotel a reality. It is time for the Trade Center campus to expand and provide such facilities as part of what effectively is Phase Two of the Trade Center.”

During the Exchange Club meeting, the panelists will address the following topics:

– The expansion of the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center campus and the need for a dedicated convention center hotel

Savannah is currently losing convention bookings to other cities because it does not have a dedicated convention hotel that can guarantee room blocks two to three years in advance. Studies indicate that the proposed hotel will double Savannah’s convention business, induce 83,000 new room nights in area hotels, create 1,170 new permanent jobs citywide, add $83 million in local spending per year, bring $29 million in earnings to the local economy, and generate several hundred local construction/supply jobs over the next two to three years.

In addition to serving the needs of the convention industry and feeding the local economy, the proposed convention center hotel will have a LEED Silver certification, with construction materials used from local sources to reduce transportation mileage and emissions. The hotel would be the first LEED Silver hotel in Savannah.

– The benefit of the convention center hotel to the community

A local Community Participation “Task Force” will be created to interact with the developer, designers and builder. Journeyman Austin Holdings, Inc. is committed to working with local vendors, suppliers, subcontractors and tradespeople and will sponsor training in tandem with Step Up Savannah’s Construction Apprentice Program. In addition, a mentor protégé program will be established by the Task Force with the ultimate goal of leaving local small businesses, minority-owned businesses and women-owned businesses stronger and better equipped to compete in all markets.

Journeyman’s outreach plan will also provide a framework for community participation to include local schools such as Savannah Technical College, Savannah State University and the Savannah College of Art and Design.

– A financing structure that will ensure the best possible public/private partnership and will benefit the Trade Center, all local businesses and the community at large

Journeyman will raise substantial private funding as the major share necessary to take the hotel into private ownership. Chatham County will provide the tax-exempt public financing for the remainder of the public phase, which will include all public spaces, among them the parking garage, the central physical plant and meeting spaces. The county will lease those public spaces to the hotel, recouping the debt service amount each month that it has put forth to finance that part of the project.

About the Panelists

Ruben Rodriguez has more than 35 years of experience in development, construction and business development, with extensive experience in hospitality and mixed-use development. He has worked extensively with Hilton and Hyatt Hotels and has significant international experience with projects in Asia, Mexico and Europe. For the past several years, Rodriguez has directed high profile construction projects including pre-construction of the Hilton Austin Convention Center Hotel and the Jack S. Blanton Museum at the University of Texas. In addition, he has taken the lead on projects in Albuquerque, Fort Lauderdale and Portland.

Peggy McCue has over 20 years experience in strategic planning, market research and client relations within the design and construction industry. Over the past decade, she has focused exclusively on the hospitality sector, including select-service and full-service hotels, resorts, convention centers, mixed use, multi-family and senior living developments. In this capacity, she has cultivated relationships with public-private stakeholders, joint venture partners and consultant teams to secure business in more than 10 countries. In addition, she has directed numerous branding and imaging campaigns.

Bob Swerdling has 25 years experience in public finance and has been providing services to municipal clients for more than 15 years. During his career, he has successfully provided financing for more than $4 billion in state and local government projects and initiatives. He has worked from all corners of the public financing business; from a client’s perspective as an official of the State of New Mexico, as an investment banker and as a credit analyst.

About the Exchange Club

The Exchange Club of Savannah meets every week at the Coastal Empire Fairgrounds at 4801 Meding Street in Savannah. Lunch is served at noon, and the program begins promptly at 12:30 p.m. For more information on the Exchange Club, please visit www.savannahexchange

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