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Business Pulse - Hotel aims for mid-September opening
Hotel - concrete.jpg
Concrete is poured Friday for the sidewalks around Hampton Inn on Sparta Street. The project is expected to be complete in mid-September.

Until it opens, I think the main question I’m going to keep hearing is, “When will the new hotel open?”

It’s getting close, possibly as soon as two months away. A mid-September opening is now the goal for our Hampton Inn hotel.

I stopped by the job site on Friday and talked to construction manager Brian Hobbs. Brian is an interesting guy from Jackson, Tenn. He’s been in the construction business his whole life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather who helped build hotels for Holiday Inn.

The delays surrounding our Hampton Inn couldn’t be avoided due to the turbulence surrounding every phase of the construction industry, Hobbs told me.

“Everybody is wanting to build everything right now and I think 2020 and 2021 are the worst years I’ve seen in my career for getting jobs done on time,” said Brian. “It’s the worst it’s ever been for trying to get labor and it’s the worst it’s ever been for trying to receive materials. Scheduling is huge when it comes to hotel construction. You have to get everything lined up. When one part gets thrown behind, sometimes for two weeks because somebody gets COVID, it throws everything else off.”

Hobbs says two examples of products getting delayed are doors and toilets. The doors were behind because of lumber issues and the toilets were greatly delayed because they are made by a company in Texas which was out of operation for some time due to the freeze and ensuing power issues.

“You can’t rent a room without a door,” said Brian.

He works directly for David Hunt of Hunt Properties, which will own and operate the Hampton Inn. Brian said construction is almost entirely complete on the second and third floors. There is still a fair amount of work on the first floor to finish and the elevator.

Brian expects to be done with all construction by the end of July. Then a company will come in to place all the furniture. Brian said a crew of about 45 strong will put all the furniture in place in all 72 rooms in about one week.

After the furniture is in place, it will take Hampton in several weeks to come in and get everything operational so when guests arrive the service is superb. If all of that happens as expected, our Hampton Inn will open its doors in about two months.

“Mr. Hunt is a very motivated developer,” said Hobbs. “If we could build them faster, he would build more. We’ve already secured three more properties to build three more. The hardest part is bidding jobs. The way material costs are going, you have no idea what the materials will actually cost at the time you’re bidding the project.”

Italian restaurant

Has opened

One business which has generated a great deal of curiosity is T’os Italian Diner. Located on heavily travelled Beersheba Street at the old Gary and Gail’s Pit Stop, many motorists noticed the sign that proclaimed an Italian restaurant was on the way.

It arrived on Thursday, and so did the crowds. Early favorites have been lasagna and spaghetti and meatballs, along with the garlic-flavored breadsticks.

The restaurant bills itself as Italian, but the menu is extensive. Wings, salads, subs, and even chicken stir fry are available.

Restaurant owner Ashley Wheeler said she and her husband Caesar recently moved to Warren County from Chattanooga to start the business.

“We got lost the day we found this building,” said Ashley, who said she found out from a neighbor the property owner is William Wanamaker. “When I called him about renting it, he said there was no way he wanted another restaurant to go in here. He said it would require too much work. When I told him my husband would do all the work, he was agreeable.”

Ashley said she and Caesar worked on the building for months and made countless upgrades. Now it looks great, complete with dining room and take-out area.

Caesar grew up in the restaurant business with his parents operating both Italian and Mexican restaurants in Chattanooga. He says he understands the importance of food.

“One of the things people love to do is eat,” said Caesar. “I know I do. A good meal is something which can turn around a hard day. You can taste the flavor when a meal is cooked fresh. The philosophy of my parents was always to prepare food that you would enjoy eating yourself.”

Added Ashley, “We have food that we’d like to eat.”

T’os Italian Diner was slammed Thursday on opening day. There was a steady crowd throughout the day on Friday.

Tony Bouldin, Donald Tanner and David Cantrell were enjoying lasagna at a table Friday afternoon. They told stories about each other in between bites of pasta.

Said Ashley, “We’ve learned really fast that people here are pasta lovers. We prepare it all right here, our sauces and our meatballs. So far the food has been a hit. I’ve gotten nothing but compliments.”

T’os is open six days a week. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday thru Thursday, and 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. It’s closed on Sunday. The phone number is (931) 414-4516.

Lake Karen

Has new owner

For years, I sang the song about McMinnville needing a new hotel. It’s a song I sang every few months just to remind folks of the need.

The song I’ve been singing most recently is the need for more housing in our community. At the risk of sounding like a movie, if we build it, they will come. Now it appears like there’s finally real interest in building more homes in Warren County.

Lake Karen and the property that surrounds it has been sold off Starlight Road. The property is 103.6 acres in all with the lake itself consuming 50 of those acres. The selling prices was $790,000 for the deal which closed June 24.

A company based in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., is the new owner. According to property tax records, its name is a bunch of initials, LMTNLP.

At Thursday’s Industrial Development Board meeting, director Don Alexander said the company plans to construct homes around the lake. That sounds like a great idea. If Warren County can build more nice homes, we will attract more nice families. It’s a guarantee.

During the IDB meeting Don also said a separate company is looking to build 99 homes in the Rocky River community in the $225,000 to $300,000 price range. This is the price range Warren County needs.

It’s also crucial to note what an impact that could have on the Warren County tax rolls. Vacant land in the Rocky River area might have a value of $1 million. But if you construct 99 homes on that property at a minimum cost of $225,000 per home, that catapults the value to $22 million. That’s sounding like a big win.

I see similar potential in downtown McMinnville at the Blue Building property. If that decaying Blue Building was removed and an upscale apartment complex was constructed, it would be a huge asset to downtown businesses and a major plus for our community.

That’s why I want to take this time to urge all McMinnville city officials to envision a world where a beautiful residential development fills the space where the Blue Building is currently crumbling. Think of what momentum could be achieved for our community if that was a thriving part of downtown instead of an eyesore.

Just because some people went to school there 50 years ago is no reason to avoid doing what’s right. Sell the Blue Building. Get rid of that unsightly albatross that is hampering downtown development because a select few can’t let go.

There’s a prime 5-acre spot in downtown McMinnville that’s ready to be an attribute. Let it spread its wings. 

The Blue Building property could be something great. Instead it’s a fairy tale where a knight in shining armor is going to come in and one day restore it. Spoiler alert – that ending is not happening.

New business

Coming downtown

One of the truly hot commercial districts in our town has become downtown McMinnville. It helps that restoration efforts are well underway on East Main Street at the old Fraley’s building, now called Main Street Center of McMinnville.

As many folks know, Southern Traditions is leasing space at that newly renovated building, as is Begonias, a new restaurant which is generating all kinds of buzz. After about a month of serving customers by reservation only to help employees get up to speed, Begonias is now open to the general public with no reservation necessary. Come in and eat.

Another space in that retail center has been leased. BenchMark Physical Therapy is currently renovating the space directly next to Begonias with plans to open in a few months.

“They are building it out now and construction is moving rather quickly,” said Raven Young, manager of Main Street Center of McMinnville. “I think they will be a good company that will help downtown. The building will be handicap accessible from the front and the back.”

I’m not tremendously familiar with BenchMark Physical Therapy so I did what most normal people would do. I googled them.

It turns out BenchMark has 350 locations across the United States and has a heavy concentration of stores in the South. There are two locations in Murfreesboro as well as stores in Woodbury and Tullahoma.

BenchMark is committed to providing patients with a personalized treatment plan because it realizes all patients are different. For anyone wondering if a visit to BenchMark is right for them, the company provides a complimentary screening to evaluate how your pain or injury is affecting your lifestyle.

BenchMark Physical Therapy already has a local phone number. It is (931) 488-8511.

When I looked through the window of its storefront on Friday, there’s still much work to do before BenchMark opens in McMinnville. I’d say give it at least another month.

That’s all folks

When it comes to exciting business news, I’ve had few complaints over the past month. Warren County is running at 95 mph with no signs of letting off the gas.

If you have business news you’d like me to pursue, send me an email at Your identity will not be revealed.