The hotel options in downtown Seattle include the same brands found here: Hilton, Red Lion, Holiday Inn, etc.
But then there are places like Hotel Five, a downtown hotel with a funky decor close to prime Seattle shopping. Not far from there is Hotel Andra, which houses Lola, one of the many restaurants owned by Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas. The Ace Hotel, which also has locations in New York, Portland, Los Angeles and Palm Springs, Calif., is known for its minimalist look.
A night at one of these places — known as boutique hotels — can cost at least $150 to $175, more than a chain but less than a five-star hotel. But with their ideal location, interesting amenities, such as free bicycles to ride around the city during the stay and often cutting-edge decor, boutique hotels promise a unique experience.
Now such a lodging option may be heading to downtown Yakima.
The Yakima City Council voted last week to spend $60,000 on a consultant who would help downtown property owner Joe Morrier secure a $1.1 million loan from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department. The funds would be used to convert the the Great Western Building, a nationally registered historic landmark, into a 38-room boutique hotel with a restaurant on the ground floor and meeting space in the unique Masonic Temple on the top floor.
Boutique hotels can be loosely defined as hotels owned by independent owners or small companies that offer a wide range of luxury amenities or provide a more intimate lodging experience. But such hotels have become so popular that hotel chains are opening their own versions.
Boutique hotels are associated with thriving urban areas, so many people believe such an offering could boost Yakima’s image. The people behind I Heart Yakima, a movement looking to increase community pride and interest in the area, recently posted a blog emphasizing the need for a boutique hotel:
“We need a high-end hotel for the more than 15,000 people who come to our town each year, looking for the high-end experience that wine tourism requires. Ever been to the Napa Valley? Or for that matter, Walla Walla? Of course there are mid-range hotels and motels, (but) they also offer boutique experiences that draw tourists who will spend big bucks. As the gateway to Washington wine, a city bursting with beauty, bounty and possibility, our town is screaming for a high-end answer to the ‘But where do I stay’ question.”
That point has been made several times over the years. During a speech at the New Vision annual meeting in 2010, Ted Baseler, CEO of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, said the Yakima Valley needed to offer more amenities to take the wine industry to the next level.
A welcome mat
To explore the concept for a boutique hotel in a smaller market, I talked to Hal Craddock, an architect who spearheaded the effort to turn a former shoe factory and tobacco warehouse into a boutique hotel in downtown Lynchburg, Va., a city of about 76,000 people. The 44-room Craddock Terry Hotel and Event Center features a brewery, pizzeria and fine-dining restaurant.
The hotel and restaurant opened in September 2007 after several years of planning and construction. The brewery, pizzeria and event center followed a year later.
In the early 2000s, the two run-down buildings, about 58,000 square feet total, had an assessed value of about $62,200. That’s pretty low — most homes in the Yakima Valley are worth more than that.
Inspired by the Brookstown Inn Hotel in Winston-Salem, N.C., Craddock and his team started the hotel project in 2003.
“As downtowns make a comeback, especially in small towns like ours, we needed a welcome mat,” he said. “You can’t do that with a (chain) hotel because they’re all the same.”
Like Morrier, Craddock garnered support from the city of Lynchburg, which helped him secure a $3.2 million federal HUD loan. The city also invested $1 million a year toward infrastructure improvements to the downtown area.
When finished, the hotel, Craddock said, provided a venue that reflected the character and history of downtown Lynchburg. The decor includes artifacts from the shoe factory and tobacco warehouse, which operated during the city’s thriving industrial age of the early 20th century.
But for Craddock, the true paradigm shift came when he realized the hotel was not just for leisure visitors. The hotel also allowed business and community officials to show their best side to business travelers and leaders of prospective companies looking to locate in the area.
“It’s the kind of experience (business leaders) want their people to have,” he said.
Today, the assessed value of the two buildings is more than $10 million. This year, the property will generate more than $432,000 in lodging and sales taxes and nearly $110,000 in property taxes.
The project did not come without its challenges. His development group had to pursue financing during the entire construction process. Costs for the $20 million development grew as flaws, such as lead paint and asbestos, had to be dealt with.
So one tip Craddock offers to Morrier: make sure you have plenty of money upfront.
“Just make sure you have the money to cover (costs),” he said. “Realize that these (boutique) hotels require a lot of care and a lot of cash.”
The price tag in Yakima may not be as high — Morrier told city officials that overhauling the building would cost $2 million to $3 million.
He also encouraged Morrier to look into investor options. “You can get much more of the community involved as owners at a smaller scale,” he said.
Vickie’s to become Johnny’s
And now a bit of bad news for fans of Vickie’s Tieton Cafe.
After some effort to reopen, owner Victoria Ennis decided it’s time to move on. Actually her doctor told her she needed to do so.
Last month, Ennis was getting treatment for leukemia, but had hoped to recover enough to reopen this month.
It was not to be.
“My health has just gone to pot,” the 89-year-owner said. “The doctor says I can’t do it anymore.”
So Ennis is taking a different route — she’s selling the restaurant at 802 Wisconsin Ave.
On March 1, Johnny Tuttle, who opened Johnny’s Pizza in downtown Tieton in January, will reopen the restaurant as Johnny’s Pizza and Cafe.
There is a bit of good news for the restaurant’s regulars: Tuttle will be serving breakfast featuring items once offered at Vickie’s Tieton Cafe.
“(Ennis has) been sharing all her little trade secrets,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle will then serve the pizza, sandwiches and other items he has been selling for lunch and dinner.
Tuttle had wanted to stay at his current location at 608 Maple St., but wanted to eventually own his own building. Ennis is offering Tuttle a lease with the option to buy.
Ennis said she will miss the daily interactions with her customers and staff.
“The people were good to me,” she said.
But she will still be around. She will keep her post office box in Tieton and plans to dine occasionally at her old restaurant.
When the restaurant reopens, Johnny’s Pizza and Cafe will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, though hours are subject to change.
• Mai Hoang’s Reporter’s Notebook is published Mondays in the Marketplace section. To reach her, call 509-759-7851 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.