PORT ANGELES — The expected blip in the city’s economy from the oil rig that’s commanding its northward views has bloomed into a full-grown bubble.
The Red Lion Hotel was ready to house dozens of workers preparing the rig for its journey to Seattle. Instead, it got a couple of hundred, General Manager Robert Utz said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, other businesses have reaped a windfall from folks who’ve come to downtown to gawk at the big rig.
“It’s been a real boon to the waterfront,” said Greg Scherer, owner of Pacific Rim Hobby, 138 W. Railroad Ave., which is across the street from the shoreside esplanade that provides some of the best views of the Polar Pioneer and the MV Blue Marlin, which carried the oil rig from Malaysia.
At Kokopelli Grill, 203 E. Front St., chef Michael McQuay said increased business wasn’t dramatic but measurable, “maybe 8 [percent to] 9 percent in the last week.
“I can tell there’s been some engineers in at night, and our lunch business is probably double what it had been.”
At Downrigger’s Waterfront Restaurant, 115 E. Railroad Ave., owner Pat Davis said he’s served customers who came into his eatery in The Landing mall just to look over the rig while they ate.
They were the same kind of diners who stopped by when Port Angeles hosted a cruise ship, he said.
“Anything big in the harbor gets them down to the waterfront,” Davis said.
“Big” is one word for the Polar Pioneer, which soars 355 high above the Blue Marlin, atop whose 584-foot-by-206-foot deck the rig sits.
It will stay there for about another 10 days while the rig is detached from the floating dry dock that then will semi-submerge and let the Polar Pioneer float free.
The 900-foot-long Blue Marlin is more than a fifth longer than the Holland America cruise ship ms Statendam, which called on Port Angeles last May.
The Polar Pioneer will remain floating in the harbor awaiting towing to Seattle for final refitting before Royal Dutch Shell tows it into Alaskan waters to drill for oil.
Ken O’Hollaren, executive director of the Port of Port Angeles, said the port receives no revenue from the anchorage of the Blue Marlin but will get about $16,000 in new money over the two weeks it and the Polar Pioneer are in the harbor for moorage fees from vessels that support it.
Meanwhile at the Red Lion Hotel, 221 N. Lincoln St., Utz has employed 10 more people to help shelter and feed the marine workers who are readying the rig for its trip.
“We may have the most direct impact, providing lodging for many of them who are here,” he said.
“It’s definitely been a spike in our business. Anytime you can pick up a lot of people offseason, it’s a big benefit.”
The influx of workers advanced the hotel’s tourist season by more than a month, he said.
“We were thinking dozens [of guests from the rig] until about a week ago,” Utz said. “But it’s been anywhere from 150 to over 200.”
The Red Lion is providing both beds and board for the workers, holding buffets in its banquet rooms for breakfast and dinner, he said.
Between times, the workers board Willie Nelson’s All Points Charters & Tours van for the short trip to the Arrow Launch Service’s dock just west of The Landing mall.
From there, an Arrow tender/water taxi takes them to the rig.
About 90 people make the trip each morning and evening, Nelson said. He takes another 35 passengers to and from it for a night shift.
“I’m almost feeling guilty because I’m making too much money on the deal,” he joked.
“Just kidding. It’s an economic shot in the arm for me when I need it.”
Nelson had added motor coach service to the Snoqualmie and Crystal Mountain ski resorts to his passenger van business.
“With no snow,” he said, “I just got kicked in the gut this winter.”
The business blessing wasn’t an unmixed one at the Red Lion, where Utz arrived about a month ago after working in Indianapolis.
“It’s been kind of crazy because there have been more people than we expected,” he said.
“All the employees in this hotel have really rallied, so I’m really proud of how they have performed.
“They’ve really stepped up to the plate.”
Reporter James Casey can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at [email protected]