Hospitality and tourism are a driving force of the U.S. economy and have a tremendous impact locally and in nearly all corners of the world. Here, Nick Scott, president and owner of Scott Enterprises, talks about the exciting developments underway along Erie’s Bayfront, as well as how the industry has grown and what his expectations are for the future.
Through your more than 50 years of business experience and your many hotels, resorts and restaurants, there is no question that you have helped put Erie on the map as a travel destination. How would you describe your vision for Scott Enterprises?
Throughout my life, I have loved to travel, and am passionate about my hometown of Erie. With the exception of the four years I spent studying in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University, I have lived in Erie all of my life, witnessing numerous changes and the ongoing evolution of Erie. My vision and perseverance over the years comes from my father, Christ Skountzos, who emigrated from Greece as a 13-year-old boy, entirely on his own. He was a go-getter, a true Renaissance man. He was a talented painter and violinist, who was fascinated in many hobbies throughout his life. Early on, he entered the hotel industry with the Scott’s Motel, which opened in 1950.
As a young man, I spent my summers as a lifeguard and gardener at my father’s new hotel. At the time, it was a new concept — motels with parking in front of them. It was a modern concept, and Scott’s Motel was one of the first in the tri-state area to adopt the design. My father was always a visionary thinker and tried to come up with unique ideas to differentiate his businesses. My dad always secretly wanted me to become a concert pianist, and while I believe I was quite good at one time, I always found myself intrigued by the hospitality industry and the idea of expanding my family’s business.
During my time at Cornell University, I was exposed to many new ideas and concepts. Shortly after graduation, I returned to Erie and began exploring one of those concepts — franchising. In the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, we opened franchised restaurants such as Bonanza, Arby’s and Applebee’s. Beginning in 1985, we entered the hotel business in a big way. I discovered a growing demand for hotels on the interstate, where America was beginning to travel, and I decided I would pursue the opportunities presented there. We then built the Days Inn at the State Street Exit of I-90.
You really drove the development of upper Peach Street. Tell us more.
When we began to develop upper Peach Street, there were several obstacles at the time that needed to be overcome. When we built our second hotel, the Comfort Inn at the Peach Street Exit of I-90, there wasn’t a completed water system in the area. The only option for the new hotel was to install our own water tank in a closed-circuit service for the hotel. Trucks hauled water to the hotel daily. Ultimately, the investment was well worth it, and the hotel flourished.
Today, we operate businesses in every corner of that intersection. When success combines with ambition, the two forces come together and push you forward. Soon after that, my two sons Chris Scott and Nick Scott Jr. and my daughter Alison Scott came into the family business, followed by my son-in-law Lance Lehr.
With the combined efforts of our family, we’ve continued to expand and develop new opportunities. Each of my children have unique talents that contribute to our company’s growth. My wife, Kim, has played a big role in keeping family members working together to achieve business success.
What about your indoor water park Splash Lagoon?
When I first came up with the idea to create an indoor water park in Erie, people thought I was crazy! It was a revolutionary idea at the time but upon opening, Splash Lagoon became an immediate success. Since opening in 2003, Splash Lagoon has undergone four expansions. The construction of Splash Lagoon made a big economic impact on the hotel market. Several new hotels have been constructed in the area surrounding Splash Lagoon since its opening. If you were to recreate the project today, it would cost $90 million to $100 million. It’s been very successful, and we have another expansion in the works for later this year. We’re constantly searching for new ideas for the water park and ways to improve our guests’ experience and, of course, we’re very proud of Splash Lagoon being named one of the country’s best water parks by numerous publications, including USA Today and TripAdvisor.
2018 is proving to be an exciting year with the groundbreaking of the Harbor Place project and construction of the Hampton Inn & Suites hotel, the centerpiece of your $160 million project near Erie’s Bayfront. Please share some highlights.
We have been working on the concept of Harbor Place for years. Weber Murphy Fox Architects have been involved with planning, and improving the plan to be more than just another hotel site with another everyday brand.
We know that whatever we create on the Bayfront needs to be special, it has to be the best that we can afford — and maybe even beyond that — to ensure Harbor Place is a lasting and iconic development for Erie. We were very fortunate to receive $5 million from the Commonwealth for this project. The new Hampton Inn & Suites will be a boutique-style hotel with 95 guest rooms, 30 percent of which will be larger suites. It’s going to be eight stories tall. A crowning jewel will be the indoor/outdoor rooftop bar, restaurant and event center atop the hotel, which will serve tantalizing flavors with local flare, surrounded by truly stunning views of Presque Isle Bay.
The next phases are expected to be just as ambitious. Tell us more.
Harbor Place will be built in nine phases, beginning with the construction of the Hampton Inn & Suites. A mixed-use development office building with retail space will be constructed in phase two of the project. Following those initial phases
will come a parking garage, which the Parking Authority is working with us on, followed by the construction of about 120 townhouses and apartments on Holland Street Pier. In future phases, we’ll add more restaurant and retail space, a second hotel (which may be an extended stay hotel) and additional parking spaces. In the final phases, we’ll be constructing the east basin townhomes that are along the waterfront. The project has a creative design that will enhance the spaces to be an ideal place to live, work and play.
In addition to Harbor Place, there have been some major construction projects going on downtown. What are your thoughts on seeing construction cranes in the air?
Erie has been a sleeping bear of sorts, being somewhat dormant over the past 20 years, but it’s awakening. Erie Insurance has taken a visionary lead in making things happen. The presence of Gannon University, GE, UPMC Hamot, the Convention Center, city and county governments, Erie Insurance and the numerous downtown businesses and Bayfront highway improvements bode well for the future of Erie, the Bayfront and downtown districts.
What does the future hold for Scott Enterprises?
Peek’n Peak Resort has been a very exciting and rewarding addition to our portfolio in recent years. I think we’ll continue to invest heavily in The Peak and continue to grow it. We’re finalizing plans for an expansion at Splash Lagoon. It’s a wonderful asset, and it draws a lot of people to Erie. We’re continuing our work in the hotel field. There is a parcel of land in Grove City we’d like to develop into a hotel and restaurant. We now have two hotels in Buffalo, as well.
We currently have more than 2,000 employees on our team at 28 locations and host over 4 million guest experiences per year at our various hotels, restaurants and resorts. We pay a lot of taxes in Erie County while also supporting charities and the arts throughout our community. I’m grateful that our family-owned company has grown to be a major player in the Erie economy and will be a vital part of my hometown community’s future. That 13-year-old boy who emigrated from Greece in 1916 would be amazed to see how his original business has grown.