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I-15 INTERCHANGE OFFERS PLENTY OF ROOM FOR THE INNS

At I-15's Exit 318, where Bountiful, Woods Cross and North Salt Lake meet in a jumble of joint boundaries, motels are sprouting like weeds.

Not even 10 years ago, this intersection of the highway and 2600 South lacked a single establishment where a weary traveler could rest his bones. Then, in 1987, a CottonTree Inn appeared. Three years later, a Motel 6 began leaving its light on. A Hampton Inn and a Fairfield Inn are set to open their doors within a few months. All are within a block of each other.What's going on? Are a disproportionate number of South Davis husbands being kicked out of their homes? Have vacationers discovered the charms of nearby oil refineries? Why such a large increase in motel space?

"There's a need for additional rooms. Coming into Salt Lake on I-15 from the north it's the last undeveloped interchange," said Woods Cross city planner Tim Stephens. "Apparently, the national trend is that travelers want to stay outside metro areas instead of just staying downtown."

"The downtown sites are going at 80 percent (occupancy) or better, so there's a market here," said Richard Miles, construction manager of Fairfield Inn's developer, Western States Lodging and Development. "The location is great. There's proximity to the city, and there are no viable hotel sites between the city and that site - none."

He's right. In the few miles that separate Salt Lake City and the 2600 South interchange the most dominant landscape features are oil refineries and bare mountainside.

Though motel officials don't keep track of how many customers are visiting Salt Lake City vs. those visiting Davis County, all agree the former significantly outnumber the latter.

"The closer you are to Salt Lake, the more beneficial it is to you," said Richard Petersen, president of CottonTree Hospitality Group, which owns CottonTree Inn. "If we were to go just a little farther north, say to the Centerville exit, business would not be as great, no doubt about it."

Interestingly, the CottonTree Hospitality Group also owns the Hampton Inn, which is due to open next month. Petersen said the firm was not concerned about the new facility cannibalizing business from the CottonTree Inn.

"The growth in Utah in general has been extremely good over the last several years, and especially the last year," he said. "The business climate in Davis County has been very good. The area could handle another 60 rooms."

"There's plenty of room to go around as far as vacancy rates," Stephens added.

Calling the second facility by a different name, even when owned by the same company, yields definite benefits.

"Another chain identity on the corner allows you to get customers that cater to a different brand," Petersen said.

Room prices at the Hampton, averaging about $55, will be comparable or perhaps slightly lower than the CottonTree. The appearance of the 80-room Fairfield, which charges about the same prices, has complicated things.

"We're concerned about the combination of both of (the new motels)," Petersen said. "Our feeling was the market was ready for 60 but perhaps not 140."

Miles, however, does not share Petersen's concern.

"Absolutely, there's going to be enough business," he said. "The synergism of a number of hotels together creates traffic to the area. People realize there are viable places to stay, good eating establishments follow, and people start migrating there."

Ah, but what of the Motel 6, which ups the number of motels to four?

"Motel 6 is a very different market," Miles said. "You have to understand that the motel business is very segmented."

Officials of the sometimes-overlooked motel agree.

"Our rates are lower," said Motel 6 employee Gerri Larsen. "The economy is going well - (the crowded market) hasn't hurt us at all."

The CottonTree, Hampton and Fairfield cater to the average business traveler: a 45-year-old male making about $55,000 a year. The Motel 6 aims at people, often families, who have lower incomes and who frequently stay longer.

"Quite a few people stay here a week at a time," Larsen said.

Motels are also proliferating at the north end of Davis County. A few mom-and-pop places have always been around to mop up the Ogden overflow and handle Hill Air Force Base visitors, but new establishments have been cropping up to cash in on the exploding Layton business economy.

"Most of our traffic has to do with businesses here," said Bob Burch, manager of Layton's La Quinta Inn, a relative old-timer built 12 years ago. "It's a good, solid, steady growth every year."