Philly Spent $260K to Rent a Hotel for COVID-19 Quarantines It Never Used

City officials will end the lease with one of three hotels after it didn't need to use it for COVID-19 cases or quarantines. The city paid the hotel $260,000 for two months of rent.

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At $33 a night, renting out an entire 130-room hotel at the airport may have sounded like a bargain for the city of Philadelphia as it dealt with the coronavirus pandemic.

But two months and $260,000 later, no rooms at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott were needed, a city spokesman said Thursday. The rental agreement between Philadelphia and the hotel will end June 1.

The $130,000-per-month lease was one of three agreements with hotels signed by city officials and announced in April as COVID-19 cases were peaking. The three hotels were expected to house first responders, healthcare workers and homeless people who needed to quarantine.

The combined rent per month for the hotels is $424,000, city spokesman Mike Dunn said.

Since March 27, 392 people have stayed at the other two hotels leased by the city, Dunn said. He would not provide details about who those people are, citing a privacy policy.

The Holiday Inn Express in Center City is being leased for $175,000 a month and the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, also in Center City, is being leased for $119,000 a month. Those agreements will continue indefinitely, Dunn said, with 30-day notices required to terminate.

In a statement, the Kenney administration said the expenses for all three hotels are reimbursable, and that once the city determined SpringHill Suites would not be needed, the lease was ended.

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"The City rented three hotels in order to be ready should the spread of the virus increase our need for quarantine and isolation space.  Later, when we were able to determine that the third hotel space was not necessary, we made the fiscally prudent decision and stood it down," the city statement said. "The costs are fully reimbursable by federal funds, so the cost of renting the hotel is not borne by City taxpayers. We are pleased we didn’t need it, but if we had needed it, we would have been ready."

The city also built a pop-up medical facility inside Temple University's on-campus sports arena as an overflow facility. However, the Liacouras Center was needed for only 14 patients and was deactivated earlier in May.

That facility cost the city $4 million to ramp up and operate for the month of April, according to news site Billy Penn. Kenney told the site that it was “better to build it and they don’t come than to not build it at all."

Dunn said the hotel leases, which add up to $850,000 through the end of May, are eligible for reimbursement from the federal government.

"The rental of these facilities for both purposes/populations is eligible for reimbursement under FEMA’s Public Assistance program. SpringHill Suites was intended to serve the same purposes and is reimbursable under those same parameters," Dunn said in a statement. "The Emergency Operations Center Finance and Administration section is tracking costs and reimbursement, among other work."

The city describes the Holiday Inn as a "Quarantine Site." It has been utilized as housing for both first responders and the homeless.

Fairfield Inn is called the "COVID Prevention Site." It has been used as "a protective setting for individuals who are at high risk if they were to contact COVID – those who are over 65 or with underlying medical conditions – and who would otherwise be living in congregate sites or other unsuitable settings," Dunn said.

The agreements with the three hotels were announced April 15, when the region's COVID-19 cases were near the peak level. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said at the time that "some hospitals in the region have been hit harder than others and some of them are near capacity, especially for intensive care unit beds. So some of these hospitals may need to be transferring patients to other hospitals or diverting patients."

On April 15, there were 311 new cases of COVID-19. On May 28, the city announced 175 new cases.

The number of hospitalizations has also declined significantly over the same time period. On April 15, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health reported 778 patients with COVID-19 at Philadelphia hospitals, with a total of 1,428 people hospitalized in the region.

On May 28, there were 485 patients with COVID-19 in Philadelphia hospitals, with a total of 994 across the region.

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