Families with runners who compete in the annual state cross country championships at Woodward Park in Fresno have to make hotel reservations a year in advance or else they'll end up staying up to 40 miles away.
The event attracts 20,000 people over Thanksgiving weekend. If Fresno State hosts a home football game at the same time, forget about finding a room, said Roger Blake, executive director of the California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees high school sports in California.
"It's even more crowded," Blake said.
But visitors' search for lodging in Fresno and Clovis soon will get easier. Nine hotels from companies like Hilton, Hyatt, La Quinta and Marriott are under construction or planned in Fresno and Clovis. That's more than 600 new hotel rooms and the creation of at least 600 service jobs once the businesses open, said Layla Forstedt, chief executive officer of the Fresno/Clovis Convention & Visitors Bureau.
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The hotels also will help fund the agency, which markets Fresno as a tourist destination, by charging visitors a 1.5 percent room assessment per night. There are currently 85 hotels in area.
What's driving this construction boom? Demand. The Fresno/Clovis hotel occupancy rate is at a high of 66 percent. For many years, it hovered in the 50s, Forstedt said. "I've never seen an occupancy like this. (Developers are) not going to build if they don’t see a need," she said.
Local tourism is driven by state and regional sporting events, conventions, agritourism, medical tourism and visitors to the nearby national parks. Tourists spend about $1.5 billion locally on hotels, restaurants and shopping, Forstedt said.
Fresno hosts an average of 60 regional and state tournaments a year in wrestling, soccer, Tae Kwon Do, baseball and softball, to name a few, Forstedt said. That's only what the bureau tracks.
The California Interscholastic Federation holds three state championships in Fresno and Clovis every year because of its central location. More hotels will "help a lot, obviously for cross country," Blake said. The other two events include track and field at Buchanan High School and swimming and diving at Clovis West High School.
"Fresno is almost in the middle of the state, so if we have a team coming from Eureka or Calexico it will take them the same amount of time (to get here)," Blake said.
Help from the visitors bureau and Clovis Unified School District is also a plus, Blake said. Both groups roll out the red carpet for students, he said. The last race ends, at the state track meet, around 10 p.m. Saturday, and when the last runner crosses the finish line, fireworks go off, he said. Following the race, runners and their families look for restaurants in which to eat, and the visitors bureau works with restaurants to stay open later for the families, he said.
"It's a fun day when we come into the Valley," Blake said. Many people may wonder why they are competing in Fresno, but "when they're there, they say this is really cool."
Three hotels are under construction in Fresno, including the city's first Hyatt Place, east of Highway 41 and south of Alluvial Avenue near River Park . A Fairfield Inn is being built on West Shaw Avenue, near West Avenue, and a Hampton Inn is almost finished near the airport. A hotel is planned in downtown Fresno and one on an empty lot at Fresno and Herndon avenues.
In Clovis, development company Baywood Hotels is planning to build a Home2 Suites by Hilton on the southeast corner of Clovis and Santa Ana avenues. The 110-room hotel will have rooms that can be divided into sleep and work areas, with easy-to-move furniture allowing guests to create custom living spaces.
"We’re looking for opportunity in growing markets that are developer-friendly," said BJ Patel, the company's vice president of development and finance. "I think there is a reasonably strong market demand. The university plays a key role in it."
While Fresno State and events at the Save Mart Center help drive some hotel demand, most of it probably comes from Clovis Unified, said Andy Haussler, Clovis' community and economic development director. The school district regularly holds a lot of athletic events that pull people in, he said.
Clovis has two hotels under construction. La Quinta is building south of the Barnyard Shopping Center on Clovis Avenue. A Marriott Town Place Suites is going up on Shaw Avenue at Helm Avenue. A Courtyard by Marriott was recently approved by the Clovis Planning Commission for Shaw Avenue at Sierra Vista Parkway, across from Toys R Us. There could be one more hotel application in the next few months, Haussler said.
Rounding out the top reasons people visit Fresno are the growing agritourism and medical tourism industries. Thanks to more advertising and partnerships with nonprofits like Visit California, a nonprofit that promotes tourism statewide, and ValleyPBS, more tourists are coming to learn how food is grown and how water is used, Forstedt said. And visitors are coming for surgery and other medical services performed by internationally known surgeons using innovative techniques, she said.
"I feel like people are changing their attitudes and are realizing what we have here and it's contagious," Forstedt said. "The more we have to sell, the bigger we can go. We’re always looking at bigger, bigger, bigger."
Hotels under construction or proposed
1. Hyatt Place, south of Alluvial Avenue and east of Highway 41
2. Fairfield Inn, West Shaw and West avenues
3. Hampton Inn, McKinley and Peach avenues
4. Home2 Suites, Fresno and Herndon avenues
5. Hilton or Marriott hotel at Inyo and M streets in downtown Fresno
1. La Quinta, Clovis Avenue south of Barnyard Shopping Center
2. Marriott Town Place Suites, West Shaw and Helm avenues
3. Home2 Suites, Clovis and Santa Ana avenues
4. Courtyard by Marriott, Shaw Avenue east of Sierra Vista Parkway