New Johnston County Hotel Appears Imminent

Benson-Town-of-LogoBenson’s Dutch Inn property sold. Buyer discusses small town investment.

Town Manager Matt Zapp has a phrase he likes to use when discussing Benson’s future.

“We’re a green tape government,” he said Wednesday afternoon. “And we operate at the speed of business.”

Sure, it’s a cheesy thing to say — and Mr. Zapp’s knowing smile when he gets to the “speed of business” part signals he’s aware of how it sounds — but that “green tape” approach has recently stirred interest among developers and business owners alike.

“You can credit a lot of (growth) in Benson to (Mr. Zapp) and the staff that they’ve got here. We’ve certainly been to other towns where they say, ‘Oh, if you need anything call, but don’t really bother us,’” said Adam Leath, following a meeting in the town manager’s office this week.

“I haven’t been to a town that is as receptive to development as Benson,” he added.

Mr. Leath is the managing director for Virginia-based Leath Co. — the company that just purchased the land where Benson’s Dutch Inn once stood. The $760,000 deal for the 4.86-acre tract off South Walton Avenue, near Interstate 95, was completed in February.

“I was on Interstate 95 — we have some outdoor billboards, we are also into advertising — and I noticed this site,” explained Mr. Leath, who lives in Raleigh.

“I had reached out to the folks that owned (the property) about a year ago. We had some back and forth, but nothing materialized. I came back to them around December this past year and felt like this would be a good property to have,” he said.

Many longtime Benson residents remember the Dutch Inn, a 48-room hotel built in the early 1970s. The facility was top-of-the-line for its time, but became a little more outdated with each passing year until its demolition in 2010.

During a brief interview, Mr. Leath declined to divulge the exact plans for the acreage — but given Leath Co.’s history, the new hotel Benson has been pining for over the last six years may soon become a reality.

“We’re a family business. We’ve been around in one form or another since the early 1940s,” he said. “(Leath Co.) was in the hotel business from the 1960s till the 2000s. We got rid of our last one back in 2000. The most we had at one time were two, maybe three (hotels).”

Leath Co. was partnered with major hotel flagships like Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn and Days Inn.

“We have gone after Hilton before when we were in that market, but the franchise rights got taken. So, we have a relationship with Hilton, but we haven’t operated one,” added Mr. Leath.

His father currently heads the company, but the younger Mr. Leath said that the Benson prospect is his own projection of the future.

“This is kind of us coming in on a third generation basis, working with one of our strong partners, to kind of put a stake in the ground and say this is where we go and growth forth,” he said. “I think there is just as much opportunity out here (small towns) and it’s a lot more fun — a lot better people.”

And that’s where the hints trail off.

“We’re hoping in the next couple of months, we will have more to announce as far as a project we are looking to do here,” said Mr. Leath. “We’re looking forward to being a part of Benson.”

In late February, Benson commissioners approved a town project to upgrade sewer lines and a pump station that serves the old Dutch Inn site.

Hotel Study

The last time town officials were this excited about a potential hotel was in August 2013 when Raleigh-based Williams Appraisers conducted a hotel feasibility study.

Numbers from 50 regional lodging facilities within a 30-mile radius of Benson were collected and analyzed — using daily rates, amenities and other “supply generators” to simply say what local officials have known for years, Mr. Zapp told The Daily Record three years ago.

“Benson has been working on hotel recruitment since I’ve been here. We’ve seen hotels go up along Interstate 95 in Smithfield, into Dunn and around the Fayetteville area and we feel that Benson is an un-serviced market,” he said.

Researchers noted the diversified mix of employers within Benson and a population increase in Johnston County of approximately 38 percent in the last 10 years as other viable indicators a new hotel would be successful in Benson.

The study also suggested the optimal size of any new hotel in Benson should be 80 to 90 rooms limited service facility, meaning the business would primarily focus on lodging, not food and beverage sales. Story courtesy The Daily Record