PORT ANGELES — The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has increased the size of its planned downtown hotel from 86 rooms to about 100 units and raised its cost estimate to $24 million, project manager Michael Peters said Tuesday.
The tribe also has hired the former general manager of Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel, Robert Utz, to head the new facility, Peters told 85 attendees at the Port Angeles Business Association breakfast meeting.
Utz, currently managing Hotel RL in Olympia, operated by Red Lion Hotels Corp., said after the meeting that he will begin working full time on the tribal project next week.
“I’m so happy to have the opportunity,” he told meeting participants.
“It’s going to be beautiful.”
Peters said the tribe has selected the construction company PNE Corp. of Longview as the project contractor.
He said in an interview that he hopes to start demolition of a garage at the downtown site by March 31.
Peters is hoping the hotel is ready to open its doors by July 2020 to take advantage of tourist season, but said a more realistic opening would occur in early fall, he said.
The four-story hotel will be built at 111 E. Front St. on the south and 110 E. Railroad Ave. on the north, just east of the Black Ball Ferry Line international port of entry and stretching along an entire block of Laurel Street.
Peters said the project will cost $24 million, higher than the original $20 million target.
A pre-permit application meeting with city staff is being planned for next week, he said.
Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles, who also attended the breakfast meeting, answered a question about the tribe’s “vision” for the project.
“Our vision on the hotel is really identifying our cultural ties that we have within our community,” she said.
“We’ve already started the formal [process] of a design concept that we would like to see, especially for drawing into tourism.”
Peters estimated that 60 to 100 people would work at the hotel, depending on the season.
Tribal members are training to fill positions, Charles said.
Peters had predicted in February 2018, before the tribe purchased the 0.65-acre East Front Street property from the city, that construction would be completed this summer.
City and tribal officials had expected the parcel would be purchased by the tribe that same February.
Peters said the holdup was partly due to City Manager Dan McKeen retiring in September, prompting a shuffle in city staff that included Nathan West, who was the director of Department of Community and Economic Development — the city’s top land-use official — being promoted to city manager.
After lengthy negotiations, the city declared the property surplus and then sold it for $950,000 to the tribe in December 2018, instead of February 2018.
The price included $300,000 cash and a $650,000 credit that the city applied to the purchase price to cover the tribe’s environmental cleanup costs.
A soon-to-be-demolished garage that once housed an oil and gas company is on the parcel.
Peters said 2,000 tons of contaminated soil will be trucked for disposal, likely to Cowlitz County, during a process likely to take about two months.
“It’s just that things are complicated,” Peters said, adding that tribal officials are in the process of scheduling a pre-permit meeting application with city planning staff.
It will include underground parking, a restaurant, workout room, bar and swimming pool.
Chances are high that it will include 24-hour room service and a seasonal concierge, Peters said.
Peters said the project is progressing with an eye toward two nearby projects: a 326-stall parking garage being planned by Eric Dupar with condominiums or apartments and a restaurant south of Front Street and West of Oak Street, and a community group’s plans for the $45 million Port Angeles Waterfront Center at Oak Street a block west of the hotel site.
Tribal Enterprise Chief Operations Officer Linty Hopie told those at the meeting that the intention is to provide lodging for the Waterfront Center’s larger scale events.
“That partnership will end up being critical for us,” she said.
Peters said in a later interview that the tribe is able to increase the number of rooms over what was originally planned by cutting down on meeting rooms at the hotel.
Waterfront Center Executive Director Chris Fidler, who attended the meeting Tuesday, said in a later interview that permitting issues may push construction to begin in October instead of August.
Peters said Dupar’s project could help mitigate parking concerns that were expressed at the PABA meeting.
A City Council public hearing on Dupar’s project has been continued to March 5.
Peters said a plan for routing traffic during a construction period that will include pile-driving will be put together as part of the permitting process with the city.
It will likely be coordinated with organizers of the other two development projects.
Peters was asked how the tribe will finance the hotel.
“How dare you ask me about my finances?” he responded.
He said no one asked Erik Marks “about how he got his money to buy The Landing mall” in 2018.
“We are financing the project, that’s what I’ll say,” Peters said.
He responded to another questioner that the tribe has “identified” financing for the project.
Asked in a later interview what that means, he said, “It means we’re ready to construct.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected] peninsuladailynews.com.