Aspen Hotels looks at 5th and Main site
A statewide hotel chain is “very serious” about buying Main Street property to build a 50-room hotel, but Haines Borough leaders will have to decide whether they want to sell the 1.21-acre lot the company wants for its site.
Aspen Management LLC submitted an application in July to purchase two lots of the old primary school land bordering Main Street at Fifth Avenue. The company is proposing to build a two-story hotel with 49 to 54 rooms and 48 parking spaces. The 31,000-square-foot building would include a 600-square-foot meeting room.
The company has developed 10 hotels in Alaska and owns and operates four Aspen Hotels in Anchorage, Juneau, Kenai and Soldotna.
Mayor Stephanie Scott said she can’t see a reason at this point why the borough shouldn’t sell the property, which other businesses have tried to buy in the past without success.
“I have tried to think of why not to do this, and the only ‘Why not?’ that I can come up with is competition with local lodging owners, but I’m constantly told that there’s insufficient lodging in town for various events. I would like to think there would be enough business to go around,” Scott said.
A hotel that size also would generate significant revenues in bed tax, property tax and sales tax, Scott said. “I don’t want to lose the opportunity by delaying this inappropriately. If the planning commission recommends going forward, I will do everything I can to support it, unless I am convinced otherwise by good reasons and arguments.”
The commission will consider the company’s application Thursday and decide whether to recommend sale of the property.
Scott said she has spoken to several members of the commission who have seemed “enthusiastic” about a potential sale. But commission chair Rob Goldberg said he wouldn’t vote to recommend selling it.
“I believe that that area, which has been called ‘the campus,’ is the equivalent of our Central Park. It’s our commons, and I am in favor of keeping it for the enjoyment and use of everyone in the borough instead of turning it over to private ownership,” Goldberg said.
Goldberg also voted against selling the property last summer when assembly member Debra Schnabel made a push to put the land up for sale. The planning commission ultimately recommended classifying the land for sale and the assembly approved it, but then later reversed the decision.
According to real estate agent Glenda Gilbert, Aspen president George Swift visited Haines June 28 to look at potential hotel sites. Gilbert said Aspen Hotels is “very serious” about buying the property.
Gilbert said the company plans to build a hotel in the same style as the other Aspen hotels in the state, but “a smaller version to fit the community of Haines.” The project is expected to cost $3.9 million and the hotel would employ 8 to 10 people, she said.
“They were looking for land to build on and this seemed to be the most obvious one of all as far as location. It’s not the easiest one to obtain, that’s for sure,” she said.
Tourism director Tanya Carlson pointed to the recent closure of the Thunderbird Motel, seasonal operation of other establishments like the Fort Seward Lodge, and maxed-out capacities during large events like the Southeast Alaska State Fair as reasons why Haines needs more lodging.
“I really don’t (see any drawbacks). It might take some business away from the other hotels, but in essence I think they would be replacing what the Thunderbird was with a better hotel. It would certainly benefit helping our town get more conferences,” Carlson said.
In the entire borough, there are 236 rooms, Carlson said. In town, there are 160. “We came very close to running short with the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon conference, and that’s definitely under what the museum conference (in September) is doing,” she said.
Situating the hotel downtown would also be beneficial because of the proximity to stores and restaurants, as visitors don’t always have their own vehicles, Carlson said.
Doug Olerud, manager of a grocery store located across from the property, said the hotel would be a “great addition to Haines.”
“There are a lot of events that we currently have that people can’t come to because they can’t find a room... Several times a year we hear about people who want to come down, but there’s no rooms available,” Olerud said.
Not everyone is thrilled about the potential development, however. Larry Beck, manager of the Captain’s Choice Motel, said he has “mixed emotions” about Aspen Hotels expressing interest in building here.
“A big company like that has the ability to subsidize a new facility with other corporate money. They can put their rates at $50 a night and not hurt the Aspen corporate structure one bit, and the Captain’s Choice and Eagle’s Nest would fold up in a heartbeat,” Beck said.
Beck said between the Captain’s Choice and the Eagle’s Nest Motel, Haines has about two to three times as many rooms as it needs in the winter already. “If I could average 10 rooms a day, I would be just ecstatic,” Beck said.
The Captain’s Choice has 38 rooms.
“I really can’t see for the tourist traffic that a whole lot more rooms are required unless something is found to bring more people into the town,” Beck said.
The 1.21 acres is half of the 2.4 acres previously used for the primary and middle schools.
The assembly will consider the planning commission’s recommendation Tuesday.