The governor says Gaekwad, a hotelier and real estate developer, “has been great for Ocala” and Florida.
By Saju Varghese
OCALA, FL: Florida Gov. Rick Scott was the chief guest at Friday’s ground breaking ceremony of a new hotel being built by Indian American entrepreneur Danny Gaekwad in Ocala, FL.
The Republican, who last visited the central Florida city during his first gubernatorial campaign in 2010, was among the dozens of people who ceremonially broke the ground for the Hilton Garden at the Downtown Square.
“I’m very proud today that [the] governor has come on my ground breaking and it’s a very proud day for my family,” Gaekwad said, introducing the governor to the crowd of several hundred people. “And I hope it’s a proud day for Ocala.”
The $20 million, five-story hotel, which will also have restaurants and retail stores, is expected to rejuvenate the historic downtown area.
The 1.1 acre lot housed a building that served as the headquarters of the local Chamber of Commerce a couple of decades till the mid-1980s. From 1850 to 1966, there was a hotel at the site before it was demolished to pave way for the chamber building.
Scott, who is reportedly toying with the idea of running for the US Senate, touted the jobs being created. “When this is completed it will be 280 more jobs, and that’s what I care about, I want more jobs in this state.”
He also highlighted the strong showing of the Florida economy under his watch. “We just had another successful month nearly 25 thousand more jobs in the month of February in the state and we’re now up to almost 1.5 million jobs.”
The governor lauded Gaekwad, a friend and supporter. “There are not many people like Danny,” he said. “He has been great for Ocala, he has been great for the state. He has been an unbelievable supporter of businesses all across the state. He will call anybody and everybody to do more business in Florida.”
Gaekwad serves on the board of Enterprise Florida, a private-public group of government and business leaders that is known as the state’s “principal economic development organization.” Scott is the chairman of Enterprise Florida.
“So the first thing I want to do is to thank Danny for being who he is,” the governor said. “I am glad you live in America. Thank God, you are building your business in America. Because I know wherever you would be, you’d be doing the same thing.”
Other speakers included Cissy Proctor, the director of Florida’s Economic Development Opportunities; state Sen. Dennis Baxley and Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn.
“It is a real honor and privilege to be involved in this project,” Guinn said. “There was a hotel there for 116 years before it was tore down in 1966-67. Now we are bringing it back.”
The mayor said he has fond memories of the old hotel. “We have been waiting and waiting and waiting for this day to come. And it has come.”
Pointing out that the new hotel will create hundreds of local jobs, Proctor said: “It is incredible news for this community, for Marion County [and] for the families here.”
“If you need a personal story, living in the back of a discount beverage shop, with a vision of what you can do in America, he is living the dream that we share,” Baxley said.
Gaekwad and his wife, Manisha, have lived in Ocala, a town of some 60,000 people, since the late 1980s. They have several businesses in the area, including hotels and real estate properties.
Born in Baroda, in Gujarat, he came to the United States in his mid-20s. He has built over a dozen small- and medium-sized companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars, in areas such as convenience stores, real estate development, hospitality industry and information technology.
Ocala is the largest city in Marion County and it is the seat of the county government. The greater Ocala metropolitan area has a population of approximately 350,000.