Daily Light staff writer

In northern Waxahachie, evidence of the city’s explosive growth can be seen on nearly every block of U.S. Highway 77 North.

Where the Willow Wood Center once stood, only piles of rubble remain as the site is cleared for the construction of a new restaurant. Where an empty lot was once found, preparations for the construction of a 90,000 square foot-plus JCPenney are under way. Further north on Highway 77, additional new buildings are being erected, whether it be the Southwest Securities Bank just south of Tyler Drive or the new Sleep Inn and Suites between the YMCA and Campuzano’s.

The new hotel, whose three stories were recently closed in with the installation of its windows, is the second hotel in Waxahachie for R.C. and Steve Harris, who also co-own the Holiday Inn Express.

Sleep Inn and Suites, Steve Harris explains, is part of the Choice Hotels network, which also includes Comfort Inn, Quality Inn and Cambria Suites.

The new hotel will feature 63 rooms, 16 of which are suites, Harris said, adding that each room will have a full complement of modern amenities, including free high-speed Internet access through both wireless and landline connections.

“It’s going to be very nice, and probably nicer than most Sleep Inns you’ll find,” Harris said, saying he and his father have decided to include several upgrades in theirs to set it apart.

These upgrades include 32-inch flat panel televisions, microwaves, refrigerators and digital thermostats that will be found in every room, Harris says, adding that tenants will get “pretty much anything you’d find in a little bit nicer hotel.”

The hotel will have a heated outdoor pool, about 1,000 square feet of meeting room space, and breakfast, Harris said.

Now that the hotel “is in the dry,” work on the interior will begin in earnest, Harris said, adding that the bricking of the exterior will begin and continue simultaneously.

The hotel will probably start hiring staff during April, seeking applicants for positions including housekeeping, a general manager, desk clerks and maintenance personnel.

There will be about 18 positions, Harris said, adding that the owners have begun negotiations with several restaurants for the adjoining lots, including a number of steakhouses and Mexican restaurants.

“It’s all speculation right now,” Harris said.

The hotel has the goal of opening between May 15 and June 1, Harris said, hopefully in time for the Country Thunder music festival during Memorial Day weekend.

“We’ll have it open in four months or so,” Harris said.

The Harrises’ motivation for building the second hotel?

“It’s the growth,” Harris said, explaining that he and his father feel that the retail area north of town is growing large and fast enough that it warranted more hotel space.

Laurie McPike Mosley of the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce’s Convention and Visit-ors Bureau is excited about the new hotel.

“It just gives us (Waxahachie) more quality hotel rooms that we’re going to need to compete in the convention market,” she said.

While Waxahachie competes in the markets for smaller meetings and conventions - the large conventions typically go to cities such as Dallas or Houston that have much larger facilities - Mosley said the addition of the Sleep Inn and Suites to the uptown area will have a positive impact in several areas, including increasing the amount of marketing dollars Waxahachie receives from the hotel/motel tax.

“My job is to put heads in beds,” Mosley said, explaining that her position, which is paid for by part of the hotel/motel tax, is to increase the city’s visibility, entice event organizers to come to the city and help out the hotel and lodging industry in Waxahachie by attracting newcomers.

The Harrises’ new hotel, Mosley said, will help her - and Waxahachie - in the quest for more tourism and meeting and convention dollars.

E-mail Anthony at Anthony.Trojan@waxahachiedailylight.com