A gargantuan on-base, government-owned hotel at Fort Lee in Petersburg is open for business.
The 504,000-square-foot, 1,000-room Fort Lee Lodge, built to house soldiers training at Fort Lee’s Army Logistics University, began serving troops in late December after being under construction for two years. It is the largest such lodging facility in the U.S. Army.
The $86.3 million property has more than two miles of hallways running through seven stories on 27.5 acres, said Marc Jannsen, the hotel’s manager, during a tour of the facility Tuesday.
“Each room has a 32-inch, high-definition flat screen with Blu-ray,” he said, “which is standard throughout the Army.”
Each room also has a kitchenette, Wi-Fi, an ironing board and a hair dryer, just like you would find in most private-sector hotels.
St. Louis-based Korte was the contractor on the project.
Jannsen said that the hotel is operating at about 68 percent occupancy but that that rate would swell closer to the summer. The average stay is about nine days, with the longest stay being about three months, he said.
The facility is operated by the Army, but Fort Lee garrison commander Col. Rodney Edge said that could change.
“It hasn’t been decided yet whether the management would be contracted out,” Edge said. “If you look around the Army, there are quite a few that are run that way.”
The hotel has been a source of concern to the Petersburg area hospitality industry, which for years has contracted with the Army to house overflow soldiers from Fort Lee.
Hotel owner Nick Patel of Kalyan Hospitality said he isn’t sure what effect the on-base hotel would have on his business.
“It’s really too early to tell,” Patel said. “It’s January, so typically all our hotels in the Tri-Cities area are slow this time of year. Once March/April rolls around, and all the soldiers are in town, then we’ll know what impact it’s having.”
Kalyan operates a Hampton Inn, a Comfort Inn and a Holiday Inn Express in the Fort Lee area and a Comfort Suites and Candlewood Suites in nearby Colonial Heights, all of which are still contracted with the Army for boarding Fort Lee soldiers.
Temporary lodging for soldiers at Fort Lee is big business in Petersburg. Last year, the Army disallowed the practice of soldiers staying at local apartment buildings on short-term leases, requiring them to stay at government-approved hotels.
The Lodging Success Program, which is now the Army’s standard rental policy, requires soldiers who could not be housed on-base to stay in properties featuring, among other things, video surveillance at all entrances and exits, daily housekeeping, free Internet and cable and — high up in the requirements — interior corridors for security purposes.
That program ruled out virtually every apartment complex in the region, because almost all of them have exterior corridors.
Apartment owners howled in opposition and hired a lobbyist to get the Army to review its policies. In July, the Army changed its policies to allow apartments that could meet the revised standards to apply to house its soldiers.
Going forward, any hotel or apartment complex that wants to compete with the Army-owned Fort Lee Lodge must go through the contract bidding process.