By Richard Anguiano
Published: Sunday, July 26, 2015 at 6:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 24, 2015 at 4:13 p.m.
It’s an especially busy time for Hotel Development & Management Group.
The Marion County company has begun construction on Comfort Suites Dunnellon, a 71-suite hotel slated for a Dec. 1 opening.
The firm also known as HDG Hotels bought two hotels this month: the Comfort Inn at Stetson University in DeLand on July 1, as well as the Holiday Inn Express in Tavares on Wednesday.
If that weren’t enough, the company is renovating the Howard Johnson Inn on Northwest Blitchton Road that marked the Saju family’s entry into the hotel business in 1981.
“Between the projects we’re doing, we’re very confident we’re going to create well over 100 jobs within the community,” said Azim Saju, HDG vice president and general counsel.
Comfort Suites Dunnellon is being built to cater to “out-of-town ecotourism enthusiasts” drawn to the Dunnellon/Rainbow Springs area, said Navroz Saju, HDG’s president and CEO and Azim Saju’s brother.
“So the hotel is very green, from indigenous Florida landscaping to an irrigation system that’s very efficient,” Navroz Saju said. “If it rains, it won’t come on.
“It allows someone who’s going to be kayaking, canoeing, birdwatching, to stay a few days and feel comfortable.”
Eddie Esch, Dunnellon city manager, said officials and residents there are excited about the hotel under construction.
“We feel like it’ll be an economic driver for other businesses to follow,” he said.
“These hotels that are here right now, very commonly are full,” Esch said. “There’s no place for people to stay in the busiest times of the year. The fact that they stay overnight means they eat overnight. They’ll be here enjoying the entertainment and other aspects of the city, more than just through the middle of the day.”
Esch said the state has approved a $650,000 Community Development Block Grant for infrastructure improvements to the site at 20052 Brooks Street in Dunnellon.
“There’s just a whole bunch of processes, with hiring the grant manager and hiring the engineer, all that stuff,” he said. “There’s an environmental study that has to be done.”
Meanwhile, HDG plans to invest about $1 million in improvements to the Comfort Inn in DeLand, Azim Saju, Navroz Saju said.
“We’re going to invest in our team over there, in terms of their professional training and advancement,” he said. “We do 100 percent up to 4 percent in our 401(k) match and we have a paid-time-off policy, so we’re really hoping to invest back in our team over there for their professional advancement.”
Feasterco. Construction, a Marion County contractor, will handle renovations in DeLand, according to Navroz Saju, who said the DeLand buy was a logical move for HDG.
“It’s in a smaller town, outside of Orlando and it’s got some ecotourism,” he said. “It also has a university there. There’s a lack of quality lodging there, so it kind of fits within our model.”
The purchase of the Holiday Inn Express in Tavares brings the number of HDG hotels to 12.
The Saju family moved to Marion County in 1981 and got into the hotel business that year by acquiring the Howard Johnson Inn, which they’ve operated since. HDG has plans for that property at 3951 NW Blitchton Road as well. According to Navroz Saju, the hotel was chosen by Howard Johnson to be the first property in North America to undergo the chain’s “reinvigoration program” and is about 35 percent through the renovation. Local contractors working on that project include Ocala Landscaping, Ocala Plastering and Rolando Sosa, architect.