The difference between a lodge and an “urban lodge” could be seen Sunday in Independence.
Operators of the new Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center have tweaked the traditional decor of the woodsy-themed chain, complementing their traditional horsehair sofas with metal fish sculptures mounted on the lobby walls.
Perhaps more exciting for Independence economic development officials, however, is how the new 167-room hotel and adjacent conference center may increase the odds of a yank on their fishing lines.
For years they have baited hooks, hoping to lure retail and restaurant tenants to The Falls at Crackerneck Creek development, with only a limited number of catches to display.
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Maybe their luck improves now.
“Stoney Creek provides a catalyst for additional expansion,” said Byron Constance, a member of the five-person Crackerneck Creek development team.
In 2004 Independence approved about $72 million in tax increment financing for the 200-acre district that, at the southwest corner of Interstate 70 and Interstate 470/Missouri 291, includes an 18-acre lake and a 70-foot-tall waterfall.
The area’s anchor attraction, a Bass Pro Shops store, opened in 2008.
Developers hoped that as many as 70 retail stores or restaurants could surround the store, generating sales and property tax revenues.
But the recession intervened. Although some tenants set up shop — Mardel, Hobby Lobby, Cheddar’s and Pizza Ranch — no more followed. The subsequent lack of expected tax revenues forced the city, beginning in 2011, to make debt-service payments on the bonds used to finance the development’s construction.
That angered Jason White, a former Independence City Council member who accused city officials of a lack of transparency in approving the payments. Still, he’s pleased to see the new hotel in place.
“Stoney Creek is a good organization, but, sadly, it’s not the complete answer,” White said. “The city is so far downstream on that project, it essentially has to have the bulk of that site filled with taxpaying retail to make it work.”
In 2013, taking advantage of lower interest rates, Independence officials refinanced some of that debt. But earth remains unmoved on much of the development. Although a Slim Chickens restaurant opened nearby in January, and a Main Event family entertainment center is expected to soon be under construction, both of those attractions will stand outside the Crackerneck Creek boundaries, Constance said.
“We hope to make announcements on new tenants within the next few months,” he said.
Meanwhile, the new Stoney Creek will employ about 100 area residents, Constance said.
Also, the hotel’s adjacent conference center — with its 9,000-square-foot ballroom and 31,000 square feet of overall conference space — allows hosting of events that previously may have been out of reach.
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division 1 Women’s Basketball National Championship begins at the Independence Events Center on March 18. Some tournament teams will be staying at the Stoney Creek hotel while the tournament banquet will be held in the conference center. Also, the Missouri Parent Teacher Association spring conference will be held at Stoney Creek in April.
“The different clientele Stoney Creek will attract will position the city to attract events that we haven’t been able to book in the past,” said Cori Day, Independence tourism director.
The secluded site remains a compelling selling point, added Robert Heacock, Independence city manager.
“On some of the balconies on the back of the new hotel, you can’t hear the noise from the interstate,” he said. “So it’s sort of a reprieve from the urban surroundings.”
The urban feel, meanwhile, can be found inside. One difference between the traditional Stoney Creek lodge and the chain’s new “urban lodge” concept, said Kevin McCarty, Stoney Creek Hospitality senior vice president, is how the deer antler incorporated into a guest room wall sconce is — in Independence — painted a pale white.
“We have blended our north woods theme with a more funky feel,” McCarty said.