It's been two years since I decided to build a hotel in Tioga, North Dakota, and my, how things have changed. The state's oil-and-gas boom wasn't as far along or as famous back then as it is now, and I couldn't get any outside financing.
So I built the first Black Gold Suites with my own money. It opened just over a year ago and has been a roaring success from Day One. We made plenty of mistakes, but as I expected, our occupancy rate was so high that we were able to overcome the problems.
Last fall, we were ready to start on our second hotel, in Stanley, about 30 miles east of Tioga. By then, the whole world knew about the energy boom, and we had no trouble getting investors. That hotel will open in June.
Meanwhile, the market keeps getting hotter. Everywhere I go, people ask if they can invest in the next hotel. One gentleman, representing a group of potential investors, accompanied me in March when I visited a potential site in Watford City, 44 miles south of Tioga. I took a look with the investor, as well as my wife, Elaine, and my partners, Steve Finger and Ray Cody.
The site turned out to be almost 30 miles from the Watford City airport, at the intersection of two highways. The property owner was building a truck stop there and wanted a hotel nearby. I noted that there are already several hotels in town. The owner insisted we'd have no trouble filling rooms. "Every truck will have to stop here," he said. I pointed out that truck drivers generally don't stay in hotels. He was unfazed. "If you don't want to build here, no problem," he said. "I have 10 other guys waiting in line."
As Steve, Ray, and the investor talked excitedly about getting started, I held my tongue, but Elaine could see I was unconvinced. "You don't like it, do you?" she said when we got home. "No, I don't," I said. "This is how people get in trouble. When a market gets as frothy as this one, people overlook obvious risks and make questionable deals."
To be sure, I could build this hotel without any financial risk to me. And who knows? The hotel might succeed. But it's not a deal I would invest in, and I can't in good conscience ask someone else to do with his or her money what I wouldn't do with mine. But there are still great opportunities in North Dakota, so my search for another site continues.