The hotel and banquet center construction project, predicted to be a "game changer" for the Eastwood Mall complex, is moving along on schedule, targeted for opening about a year from now.
Friday, Cafaro Co. spokesman Joe Bell stood in a muddy service courtyard that used to house the mall's maintenance garage and back-door access to many of the shopping center's in-line tenants. Now surrounded by a construction chain-link fence, a track hoe was meticulously pulling down rows of yellow brick around the former maintenance garage, making way for the new four-story 103-suite Residence Inn by Marriott hotel.
Officials with the Youngstown-based Cafaro Co., which owns the shopping mall, one of about 50 properties nationwide, believe the hotel and conference center will help make the mall even more of the Mahoning Valley's one-stop destination and travel center for dining and entertainment.
Company co-president Anthony Cafaro Jr. has said the hotel and conference center belongs at the mall because ''the Eastwood Mall Complex isn't a typical shopping mall."
Area travel officials are hoping the project will benefit not just the shopping center, but the entire Mahoning Valley.
Travel to the area has been on the rise and is expected to increase even more as the oil and gas industry continues to take off due to the Utica Shale deep below the surface in northeast Ohio.
Joe Bell, Cafaro Co. spokesman, points out construction that has begun at the Eastwood Mall in Niles.
Still, that is not expected to be the driving force behind predicted success of this hotel and conference center.
Stephanie L. Sferra, Trumbull County Tourism Bureau executive director, said having the new conference center and hotel will be quite a draw when marketing Trumbull County.
''Because of not having a true conference center, we were limited,'' Sferra said last week, expressing her excitement with the plans. ''I am thankful that Anthony (Cafaro) Jr. and his people at the Cafaro Co. are doing this.''
The $14 million project has been under way since May. Inside the existing mall structure, offices and some in-line retail tenants have been re-located while part of the facility near Dillards in the shopping center's east end has been carved out, making way for the conference center. Inside the area, hidden from public view, rows of scaffolding soon will be removed to make way for new flooring, walls, ceilings and other construction.
Exit through a set of double doors, and crews were working last week in preparation for the erection of the hotel's steel frames expected to begin early in the new year.
Along with demolition of some exterior walls, Bell said utility and telephone lines have been unearthed and relocated, all without any major interruption of the retail business inside.
The hotel facility will be operated by TMI Hospitality of North Dakota. It is expected to serve the business community by providing a new venue for business conferences or weddings, accommodating groups of up to 1,000 dinner guests. The large ballroom also can be divided for smaller gatherings.
The Eastwood Mall Residence Inn will be the first TMI property attached to a shopping mall, and TMI president Rick Larson is excited for the new venture that he described as a "unique endeavor."
Visitors will access the hotel and banquet center by walking down the mall's northeast concourse, where LensCrafters and other businesses are located.
Other new retail development inside the mall, just in time for the start of the holiday season, includes the opening of Children's Place, a kids clothing store; Body Central, a women's apparel store; and the planned opening of Firebirds restaurant, expected to open in early December.