Airbnb owner says businesses good fit downtown

Published 11:17 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The owner of two short-term rental spaces in Downtown Troy said it wasn’t a hard decision to open his second location just months after his first in the district.

“It was a need,” said Rob Oliver, who owns multiple apartments downtown in addition to the two rentals

The son of Doris and Bob Oliver, the owners of seven buildings in the downtown area including the historic Gellerstedt building, Rob Oliver said he has a passion for the health and growth of downtown Troy.

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Although he currently lives in Cordell, Georgia, he has had full-time apartments for the last 12 years. He opened his first short-term rental, which can be rented from two nights to six months according to city ordinance, earlier this year.

“That came about after a friend of mine had a short-term rental,” Oliver said. “We looked at the opportunity of having a nightly rental so we would be able to utilize it when we come to Troy but still be able to generate some extra revenue while we’re away.”

The success, Oliver said, blew him away. “As we started renting it and getting reviews and wonderful comments … We realized this is something really big.”

The business is a great fit specifically in the downtown district, Oliver said.

“We had Troy Alumni come in this past weekend that have been coming 15 years and they said this was the best trip they had ever had to Troy,” Oliver said. “Almost every person we’ve had has said they will stay there from now on – that’s pretty phenomenal … The comments we’re hearing is that people are finally able to spend the night downtown in the heart of Troy; no matter what happens in Pike County, the atmosphere will always be downtown. It’s been there right under our noses for a long time.”

So far, there are a total of three short-term rentals operating legally downtown, including Oliver’s first on Oak Street and his new addition on the upper level of the Gellerstedt building, and The Station on Love Street, owned by Lyndsay Taylor.

Oliver said the connection to the local shops and restaurants make downtown a great place to stay short-term.

“It’s a great experience of being able to drive downtown or walk across the street to shop or get something to eat and just interact downtown,” Oliver said. “It’s bringing economy downtown, bringing money and people. It’s creating an economy that I remember my mother wanted 30 years ago. We feel very humble to be part of this.”

Melissa Sanders, Troy planning and zoning administrator, said it’s a good balance to have both short-term rentals and full-time living downtown.

“The short-term rentals bring tourism, new faces to frequent the businesses and restaurants and our arts center – all the wonderful activities we have going on downtown,” Sanders said. “But we also have more stable residents that are there everyday that are going to be a part of downtown. They have it right at their fingertips and having that activity downtown helps with its vitality.”

While the business fits in easily downtown, city officials are still researching to see how to regulate the practice of residents renting out homes short term in other parts of the city, including residential zones. The homes both downtown and in other parts of the city are listed on sites such as Airbnb, VRBO and Homeaway, which are all online marketplaces that connect the renters with prospective tourists.

“We are still looking into Airbnbs (and similar rentals),” Sanders said. “It’s relatively new and other cities have looked into this … I know that Tuscaloosa amended their zoning ordinance in July of 2017 to regulate them … With anything new and outside the box, we have to research it to make sure we’re doing what’s best for our city as a whole.”

At least for the downtown area, Oliver sees the industry continuing to gradually expand in years to come.

“It’s phenomenal to see the bud start to open up and blossom,” Oliver said. “It’s going to have an impact on the economy and everything in Troy; it’s great to be a part of it.”