Q & A with North Florida Developer Billy Scheel
Developer Billy Scheel [Photo: Rodney Rogers]
North Florida developer Billy Scheel, who helped revitalize the downtowns of both Gainesville and Ocala, recently opened the first hotel in downtown Gainesville since the city center moved west in the mid-20th century. Scheel owns several buildings and identical restaurants — Harry’s Seafood Bar and Grille and Mark’s U.S. Prime — in downtown Ocala and downtown Gainesville.
Florida Trend: How is occupancy at the Hampton Inn & Suites that opened this fall in downtown Gainesville?
Billy Scheel: Booked for football weekends, as we expected, and it would have been slow in December, except that ABC brought ‘Extreme Makeover’ to Gainesville and booked the place for two weeks.
FT: You’ve just signed Urban Flats to open in March as the final tenant in the mixed-use space under the hotel. Was it difficult to find the restaurant tenant you were looking for in the downturn?
Scheel: No. I could have had it filled up right away, but I didn’t think Gainesville needed five more Japanese steakhouses. Since I own everything around it, I wanted something that would bring more people downtown and bring more diversity to our mix.
FT: Ocala leaders would like to see a hotel downtown as well. Do you think that’s a possibility?
Scheel: Hotel occupancy in Ocala at this point is lower than the hotel chains like to see, so I would say not yet.
FT: Are the Gainesville restaurants doing better in the downturn since the unemployment rate is relatively low compared to Ocala’s?
Scheel: No. Harry’s and Mark’s Prime in Ocala are doing a little better than the same restaurants in Gainesville. They always have.
FT: Do you see doing anything new in Ocala in the near future?
Scheel: There’s plenty of office space down there, but apartments would be great. I would love to do a Union Station down there (mixed-use condos and shops in downtown Gainesville).
FT: What needs to happen for developers to do some apartments in downtown Ocala? Scheel: Gainesville has historically had more incentives. I think developers are waiting for Ocala to get more proactive.