Hotel project kicks off in Miller, SD

Local development group partnered with Heartland to conduct feasibility study, results are promising

People in Miller, South Dakota have been talking about bringing a new hotel to the community for years. However, with many unknowns–like how to obtain funding and the level of support it would receive–the idea often seemed implausible.

But after completing a feasibility study, the local economic development group now says a new hotel is attainable.

On Hand Development Corporation is a private, non-profit corporation dedicated to improving the economic health of Miller and the surrounding area. This includes maintaining and assisting in the expansion and growth of new and existing businesses.

The organization hired a hospitality consulting firm to conduct an assessment in 2019. To help cover costs, they utilized an economic development grant from the city’s power supplier, Heartland Consumers Power District.

It was the group’s first official step towards developing a new hotel in the community.

“In the grand scheme of things, it was a small but very important step,” said On Hand Executive Director Kecia Beranek. “We could not move forward without first completing this study.”

Additional accommodations needed

With a population of about 1,300, a vibrant main street and popular events and activities, Miller prospers as a destination community. But, Beranek says, there aren’t enough places for guests to stay.

Two hotels located on the edge of town have been serving the area for more than 30 years. However, many locals believe the community and region would benefit from additional lodging in a more central location.

On Hand is interested in securing a group of investors to build a hotel adjacent to the Miller Community Center.

“There is a desire for an additional property located within the business district,” Beranek said. “The community center is ideal because it already hosts a number of events throughout the year and is within walking distance to many shops and restaurants.”

Owned by On Hand, the community center is a popular venue for weddings, business events, auctions, youth activities and more. It hosted 45 events in 2019, ten of which had over 350 people in attendance.

“All of those events drew people from out of town, but very few spent the night. Those are missed opportunities,” she said.

On Hand believes the Miller Community Center is the perfect location for a new hotel. It is located along SD Highway 45 within walking distance of the downtown district.

Hotel in Miller is possible

Before the hotel dream could become reality, Beranek learned the community needed a feasibility study.

“The study determines whether or not a third hotel is practical for our community, and if so, what size it should be,” she said. “It also gives us an idea of anticipated revenue.”

Grey Hospitality, a division of Florida-based Cayuga Hospitality Consultants, kicked off the study in August of 2019. After months of research and several visits to the community, they turned over their initial report in December.

According to the results, Miller can accommodate another hotel and the proposed location would be appropriate.

“Now we know: it is possible,” Beranek said. “This has been a huge success because it eliminates doubt. We can take this on and now is the time.”

Grant helps pay for study

The feasibility study cost the development corporation roughly $11,000, but nearly half was paid for by a Heartland economic development grant.

Heartland Director of Economic Development & Governmental Affairs Casey Crabtree, left, presents an economic development grant to Kecia Beranek, executive director of On Hand Development Corporation. Also present is Bill Lewellen, electric superintendent for the city of Miller.

Heartland supplies wholesale electric power to the city of Miller. The public power utility awards economic development grants to customers to help fund projects that spark growth and development, such as new businesses.

“Overnight accommodations have an important role in thriving communities,” said Heartland Director of Economic Development and Governmental Relations Casey Crabtree. “A hotel provides the opportunity for visitors to extend their stay and enjoy the community and its attractions and further contribute to the local economy.”

Heartland awarded On Hand a $5,000 grant. Without that support, Beranek said the study wouldn’t have been possible.

“Smaller communities like ours don’t always have funding available to kick-start big projects,” she said. “Economic development is a priority for Heartland and we really appreciate their faith in us and the project.”

Crabtree believes the study will help On Hand recruit investors for a new hotel and future projects.

“We’ve seen similar studies performed in other communities which led to successful developments, and we anticipate a similar outcome in Miller. We’re happy to partner with On Hand to help the community continue to grow and flourish,” he said.

Plans begin for next phase

Beranek reports that prior to the study, support for a new hotel was substantial. Now, the promising results strengthens that base.

The city has expressed its support as well as other organizations, residents and business owners in the community and throughout Hand County.

“A new hotel would have a positive impact beyond our city limits,” she said. “There isn’t anything relatively new within a 45-mile radius, so we have the potential to attract many more people to our area. It would be an asset to the entire region.”

With their instincts confirmed, On Hand is looking forward to moving on to the next phase. This includes finalizing the assessment report as well as forming a committee to spearhead the project and begin pursuing investors.

Beranek hopes to gain ground in some of these areas by this summer.

“Economic development projects like this one don’t happen overnight. We need to take time in order to be thorough and deliberate in our decision-making, but it’s still exciting to be moving forward.”