Fairhope property owner talks plans for boutique hotel

Amy Horsfield By Amy Horsfield
03 January 2019 | Updated 03 January 2019

US: Owner Matt Bowers has proposed plans for a boutique hotel on the corner of Fairhope Avenue and Section Street.

Matt Bowers has promised his hotel won't exceed height restrictions for downtown Fairhope. Instead, he is seeking a variance on interior ceiling heights.

Bowers said: "It's not a height variance. I'm not asking the city to allow me to build taller than what is already down there."

His application to allow the building to have four stories instead of three - within a maximum height of 40 feet - is simply asking for the hotel to feature common 9-foot instead of 14-foot ceilings.

He added: "The [existing] ordinances make perfect sense. But most uses downtown are retail with residential upstairs. This is not residential, it's a lodging hotel use. I'd ask everyone to look at other hotels - The Grand Hotel, the Hampton Inn - do they have 9-foot or 14-foot ceilings? I'm just thinking of a more commonly used ceiling height."

Bowers is the president and co-founder of Southern United Auto Group, he has five dealerships in Alabama, Louisiana and Tennessee. Bowers has a family history of visiting Fairhope and after he purchased the former Chris Myers Nissan in Daphne last year along with his business partner, Franklin McLarty, they began looking for an opportunity to develop real estate in Fairhope.

He said: "We have a company in New Orleans called Town North Custom Homes, where we build custom houses in older, established neighbourhoods. We've done some revitalization-type stuff there and in Tennessee … [McLarty] came out of the hotel and hospitality industry."

When searching for an investment opportunity, he sought out what he thought was the best piece of property - a reverse L-shaped parcel in Fairhope's core, anchored by its landmark clock. Owned for more than 20 years by Lydia Myers, Bowers introduced himself and started an ongoing conversation.

"I knocked on the door of the restaurant and it was owned by the same lady for quite some time, and we began a friendship. She talked to me on what she wanted to do and all the people that wanted to buy it from her."

Bowers said he and Myers had a similar vision for the corner, and last November, Myers agreed to sell the property. Tax records indicated the deed was exchanged for $1.3 million.

He said: "I've done other real estate projects, ranging from mixed-use to retail car dealerships, houses, subdivisions … that's my interest and my interests are diverse. I want to do something nice … I'm keenly aware how important the location is. I think not many people understand it was privately owned and I think it's a great use on a property that's going to get developed one way or another."

In addition to the nine- to 12-room boutique hotel on the upper three floors, Bowers said he would find an appropriate retail tenant for the ground floor and attempt to employ local contractors, employees and a concierge service throughout the building's construction and operation.

He said: "I'm a human being, so I read some of the comments that are written and it's interesting there are a lot of people that really support the use … but there also has been some criticism. But I'm open to ideas."

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