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Hospitality

Embassy Suites Pitched For Seawitch Site In Carolina Beach

By Emma Dill, posted Mar 8, 2024
A rendering shows the Embassy Suites hotel that's proposed for six parcels near the Carolina Beach Boardwalk, an area that includes the current Seawitch site. (Courtesy of Harmony Hospitality)
Hotel developers unveiled plans to build a six-story Embassy Suites on the north end of the Carolina Beach boardwalk during a community meeting this week.

The land slated for development includes the current site of the Seawitch Cafe & Tiki Bar. More than 100 people turned out at a community meeting on Thursday that included a presentation from developer Harmony Hospitality and a question-and-answer period.

The proposed 90-foot-tall hotel would include 177 rooms along with a first-floor restaurant, about 8,000 square feet of conference and meeting space, a rooftop bar and restaurant and 240 on-site parking spaces. Developers said they also plan to make sidewalk improvements and bury power lines along the property.

A Virginia Beach-based hotel management firm, Harmony Hospitality owns and operates downtown Wilmington’s Embassy Suites and has been looking to expand into the Carolina Beach market for a while, said Zach Brigman, general manager of Wilmington’s Embassy Suites.

The proposed project would be built across six lots in an area bordered by Pelican Avenue, Carolina Beach Avenue and Canal Drive. Harmony Hospitality will request a conditional rezoning from town leaders to move the project forward. 

They will ask to rezone six properties, including 223, 225, 227, 235, 237 and 239 Carolina Beach Ave., according to a notice sent to neighbors last month. Those lots are currently zoned as part of the town’s Central Business District.

Property records show Harmony Hospitality President Page Johnson II and his wife, Amy Johnson, purchased three of those parcels, including the Seawitch site, in January for $2.6 million. The other parcels are currently owned by Carolina Beach Hospitalities LLC, an entity that purchased the land in 2014.

The developers are also proposing a land trade with the town of Carolina Beach, swapping a town-owned parking lot for a piece of land the developers are currently under contract to buy.

“We are looking to trade the oceanfront lot for the back parking lot,” Brigman said. “So in turn, the town will receive prime oceanfront real estate, and what the town could do with that real estate is open up to their discretion.”

Brigman said Harmony Hospitality hopes the hotel will become an anchor for the north end of the town’s Central Business District and will provide a “bookend” to the boardwalk. He said the proposed hotel would bring in conventions and other visitors in both the summer and the offseason.

Brigman said Wilmington’s Embassy Suites often fields inquiries about conventions and other meetings they have to turn away because they don’t have the capacity or are already booked.

“We strongly believe we will be able to transition a good portion of those down to the oceanfront during the off seasons to extend the offseason, if you will, for the rest of Carolina Beach,” Brigman said.

While some Carolina Beach residents expressed support for the project and the visitors it could bring into the community, others pushed back against the size of the proposed hotel, voicing concern about how it would fit into its surroundings and whether the town’s infrastructure could support it.

“I don’t think your bulk and scale fits on the north end,” resident Steve Shuttleworth, who is also a developer, told Harmony Hospital officials as they fielded questions on Thursday.

Some asked why developers couldn’t build within the confines of the existing zoning, which Johnson said would mean a shorter hotel with fewer amenities. Others questioned whether the town’s aging water system could support the proposal. 

While Johnson acknowledged the current water system could not support the project, he said developers expect to see increases in the system’s capacity in coming years.

The hotel is expected to employ about 200 people and could take about two and a half years to come online if everything goes smoothly, Johnson said. 

Developers also emphasized the economic impact the hotel would have on the area. The project is expected to generate approximately $1.9 million in occupancy and sales tax along with $230,000 in payroll taxes. 

The project could generate $428,000 in property and real estate taxes with more than $290,000 going to New Hanover County and more than $137,000 going to Carolina Beach. The hotel could also generate an estimated $662,000 in room occupancy tax, according to developers.

Developers said they plan to hold additional community meetings as the project moves through the rezoning process. Once formally submitted to the town, the rezoning request will go before the Carolina Beach Planning and Zoning Commission and town council for consideration.
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