March 29, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 13

Motel closure stings tour effort

Loss of rooms may hurt eagle festival, conventions

Haines Borough Tourism Director Tanya Carlson said recent closure of the downtown’s Thunderbird Motel will create a pinch in available housing, particularly for winter events like November’s Alaska Bald Eagle Festival.

“I’m sad. Those 20 rooms are typically full during the eagle festival. That’s a big percentage of all our rooms at that time of year,” Carlson said. “It will certainly affect our events this year to have 20 fewer rooms in town.”

In winter, many inns and bed and breakfasts close, she said, making the motel trade more important. Closure of the Thunderbird reduces rooms available here from 216 to 196, Carlson said.

The Thunderbird, which dates to 1956, is being purchased by Haines Assisted Living, which plans to demolish it to make way for a proposed veterans’ home at Second Avenue and Dalton Street. Former owners Mike and Betty Ricker have moved to near Newport, Ore.

HAL president Jim Studley said HAL’s purchase of the property may be complete in 10 days.

“It’s a bite all-around,” said Haines Chamber of Commerce President Ned Rozbicki. “It reduces our overall capacity for hosting visitors and it compromises our ability to do any kind of convention here.”

Overall, though, the development represents a “mixed bag” for the community, as the veterans’ home will provide jobs here, Rozbicki said. The change reflects the town is becoming more of a retirement community, he said.

The sale of Mountain View Motel in 2009 also reduced available rooms. The motel, that formerly offered 10 rooms, is now operated by Alaska Mountain Guides as Mountain View Inn with limited rooms for short-term guests.

After September last year, all but two rooms at the Mountain View were rented to long-term guests. In summer months, seven rooms are available to short-term visitors.