PORT ANGELES — The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe will start building its long-awaited 80- to 100-room downtown hotel after environmental and land-use hurdles are overcome, a project official said Wednesday.
Project adviser Michael Peters said he expects construction to begin on the scaled-down project by next summer and that the Elwha Hotel could open 14 to 18 months later — by about the end of 2022 — depending on city approval of shoreline and conditional use permits and the pandemic.
“With COVID happening, we had to stop all construction,” he told Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce virtual meeting participants, adding extensive environmental cleanup to the reasons for delay.
“National hotel occupancy is running at 50 percent occupancy,” he said.
“We had to ask ourselves if this is still a viable project. I’m glad to report that the tribe had determined that it was indeed still a viable project.”
A parking garage is no longer included in the project, Peters said.
Of immediate importance is passing state Department of Ecology muster on meeting acceptable pollution levels at the central downtown parcel where 200 dump-truck loads of polluted, petroleum-riddled soil were removed.
Toxin levels must meet Ecology-acceptable standards for four straight quarters, and testing is in the middle of the fourth quarter, Peters said. He expects to get a final determination from the agency shortly after Jan. 1.
That, combined with the shutdown of nonessential construction due to the pandemic, has halted an estimated $25 million project that Peters said could move forward with Ecology’s approval and city hearing examiner consent to shoreline substantial development and conditional use permits.
The conditional use permit would allow the four-story hotel to exceed the city’s 45-foot height limit, as have the nearby Field Arts & Events Hall off West Front Street, which is under construction, and the planned seven-story Anian Shores multi-use building and parking garage across the street.
Peters said the hotel could rise 60 feet.
The facility, which will be independently owned by the tribe, will include a swimming pool and a restaurant with outdoor seating areas.
“We would like to mobilize and start construction this coming summer,” Peters said, saying the permits would have an easier go of it with strong community support.
“There are lots of things that need to happen in order for us to meet that goal.”
Peters said the project, which will generate 60 to 100 jobs, will be planned to accommodate a 50-room addition.
He expects there will be “a huge need” for hotel space in Port Angeles beyond the Elwha Hotel’s initial 80 to 100 rooms once the economy gets back to normal.
“There is, without a doubt, room in the marketplace for not only these rooms but additional rooms in the downtown area,” Peters said.
A new building design also switches entrances from East Front Street and East Railroad Avenue to entrances for parking and patrons solely on North Laurel Street.
The tribe was engaged in environmental cleanup in January, before the brunt of the pandemic, when tribal officials estimated construction would be completed by spring 2021. Before that, the goal was July 2020.
The tribe bought the land from the city as surplus public property in December 2018 for $950,000, including $300,000 cash and $650,000 consideration, or credit, for the tribe’s environmental cleanup.
Peters said Wednesday in a later interview that he wants to submit the shoreline permit to city officials in December, confident construction can begin sooner rather than later.
“Right now, we’re shooting for late May, early June, but we’re geared up and ready to go earlier than that if we get the permits in place,” he said.
As for financing for the project, “that’s not an issue,” Peters said.
“We do have a bank involved,” he said, adding the tribe has no need for private investors.
Peters said the tribe wants to generate positive cash flow from the hotel within three years.
While a three-story parking garage is no longer planned, some parking will be available at the site.
Peters said the tribe has removed some vehicle-related activities by reducing access to the one entrance.
“We are able to show under the current design that there could be less traffic coming through that area,” he said.
He recalled that Budget Rent a Car was on the 0.65-acre site, which also held Necessities & Temptations gift shop, the Cornerhouse Restaurant & Lounge, the Downtown Hotel, Harbor Art Gallery and Winters Garage, which housed an oil and gas company.
Peters said the tribe is hoping to lease parking spaces from Anian Shores owner Eric Dupar of Bellevue for a mixture of guest and employee spaces.
He said the tribe has decided not to provide extensive meeting space, leaving that role to the Field Arts & Events Hall, which will include a 300-seat conference area.
“We immediately entered into an agreement with them that we wanted to partner with them on what they were doing down the road,” he said at the meeting.
“We still look to them as a vital part of our success [by] providing meeting spaces and conference spaces, and that we will be the hotel that will take advantage of those extra people coming to town.
“We’ve got a board room or two in our design, but we’re really a hotel, restaurant and swimming pool area.”
He said the construction timeline may coincide with the completion of the field center, where construction will be delayed indefinitely beginning in January due to a COVID-19-driven slowdown in fundraising.
“Wouldn’t that be great,” he said.
“We always went into this idea that we were focusing on redefining the downtown area, and we’re committed to making that happen.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].