OCALA, Fla. – After more than two years of construction, the Hilton Garden Inn is open. It sits right on the Ocala Downtown Square in the old chamber of commerce lot.
“So many setbacks from construction problems, architect problems and the pandemic. The fact that we can open is a sigh of relief,” said co-owner Kunal Gaekwad.
Kunal Gaekwad said they were depending on the Light Up Ocala event to bring in tens of thousands of visitors, filling up the hotel. But the city canceled the event to discourage large crowds during the pandemic. The square will still be covered in holiday lights for visitors.
“What is saving us is the five to six-hour drive. People from Georgia and Miami visiting. People are comfortable driving, so those people are saving our day today,” owner Danny Gaekwad said. “We may not get the 100% occupancy, we may get 50% occupancy, but some income is better than zero income.”
While a couple businesses in the square are closing due to the pandemic, others hope the new hotel will bring some new visitors to the area, giving surrounding businesses a boost.
“Now that the hotel’s open I think we’ll have a lot of business... we’re definitely a good choice, right down the street. I’m excited to see some new faces,” said Andrea Seiler, a bartender at Brick City Southern Kitchen.
Hilton Garden Inn Ocala has more than 100 rooms. It has several bars and outdoor patios that are open to the public.
Although events like Light Up Ocala have been canceled, the hotel owners said they will plan holiday events for the community.