Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart, left, and Moab City Community Development Director David Olsen go over landscaping plans for a Homewood Suites By Hilton hotel in downtown Moab. The proposed three-story building would take shape on the vacant lot next to Twisted Sistas Café. [Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

When visitors approach downtown Moab’s central core from the north, one of the first things they see is a huge vacant lot near the northeast corner of Main St. and 100 North.

A prominent landmark could soon rise in its place, eventually offering those same visitors an upscale place to spend the night.

Durango, Colorado-based Set Engineering recently submitted a developer’s plans for a 96-room Homewood Suites By Hilton hotel on the property, which hosted several Moab Jeep Safari events last spring. Before then, it was home to a drive-through coffee business.

Under the developer’s plans, a three-story building would take shape in the space between Twisted Sistas Café and Rodeway Inn & Suites. The first floor would be taken up by a lobby and guest dining area, while the guests’ rooms would occupy the upper floors.

Moab City Assistant Engineer Eric Johanson called the project a milestone for the city’s hub.

“It’s a whole extravaganza there … it’s like a whole quantum leap as far as downtown development,” Johanson said Jan. 13.

Moab City Planning Director Jeff Reinhart said the project is still in the very early stages of the permitting process. The city’s development review team was expected to look at the proposal this week, and the developer will then have to approach the Moab City Planning Commission for further reviews, according to Reinhart.

“We’ll be going over all of this stuff from top to bottom,” he said Jan. 23.

Homewood Suites By Hilton currently operates hotels in more than 350 locations, according to its website. The company has plans to open about two dozen new hotels in 2015 and 2016, although the Moab property is currently not listed among those locations.

Based on the plans he has in front of him, Reinhart expects to see a good-looking building.

“It really is a pretty nice layout,” he said.

The front of the building includes several unique architectural details, according to Reinhart: Among the highlights, Arches National Park’s Landscape Arch is built into the facade.

Small balconies would also jut out from the rooms facing Main Street, and a small outdoor dining area for guests would run up to the public right-of-way in front of the hotel.

The project also includes plans for a total of 103 parking spaces, including 49 underground spaces.

According to Johanson, an underground pumping system would control flooding and runoff in the lower-level parking area.

One feature that’s noticeably missing from the proposal is an on-site employee housing component, despite strong interest in the idea.

“They were trying to figure that out, but with the parking requirements and setbacks and everything, they couldn’t do it,” Reinhart said.

Some city officials are anxious to know where the hospitality industry’s employees will work, as more and more hotels open. They say that Moab’s housing stock hasn’t kept up with the demand for affordable workforce housing.

Reinhart noted that another long-planned hotel project on Williams Way does include plans for employee units.

Although he’s heard whisperings that as many as nine hotel projects are currently in the works, he said that no more formal plans have arrived on his desk at this point.

“There is a lot of interest in other properties, but we don’t have any applications or anything,” he said. “I think they’re more curious and trying to see which properties are available to develop.”

One of the biggest – another vacant lot on 100 North just west of Main Street (behind Back of Beyond Books) is already taken. A local developer who owns the land previously submitted plans for a hotel there, but that was before the nationwide recession brought Moab’s early 2000s building boom to a crawl.

“That is what was proposed there at that time … but we just don’t know what the plans are for that property,” he said.

While developers’ interest in downtown is stronger than ever, Reinhart noted that plans for large-scale projects there are limited by the availability of land.

“I don’t know how they could keep going on unless somebody buys a whole block or something,” he said.

Engineering firm submits plans for 96-room Homewood Suites

“It’s like a whole quantum leap as far as downtown development.”