|By Alison Boggs, The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 1, 2005 - The skyline of Spokane is about to change as Davenport Hotel owner Walt Worthy launches construction on the first downtown high-rise to be built in more than 20 years.
Worthy Enterprises plans to build a 17- to 20-story hotel and residential tower at the southeast corner of First Avenue and Post Street. It will be called the Davenport Tower and Residences and is expected to be complete late next year. Worthy is planning to build it in a "traditional" style compatible with his historic hotel.
The first 10 to 12 stories will contain up to 250 hotel rooms, with two levels of underground parking. The upper three to six floors will hold residences that will be either leased or sold. That could include units as small as 450 square feet or as large as a 12,000-square-foot penthouse to be sold for $4.2 million, Worthy said. Sale prices would start around $350 a square foot, while lease rates would start around $3,500 a month.
"It's going to offer a little different style of urban living," Worthy said. "I think it's going to be really attractive for people that can afford it. But it is going to be very expensive to create those residences way up there."
The building will be one of Spokane's tallest -- at least as high as the former Metropolitan Mortgage tower at 601 W. First Ave., which Worthy also owns. And it could match the 20-story Bank of America building, which was constructed in 1981 for $30 million, according to news reports.
Worthy would not place a value on the project beyond joking that it would cost "$10 million to $100 million." He said that financing would be provided "in house," and that his construction firm is serving as general contractor. He said inquiries about the project are being fielded by him through the Davenport.
Some downtown observers questioned whether adding so many hotel rooms would saturate a market with a 60 percent occupancy rate.
"I'm sure whatever hotel he builds will be first class and high quality," said Dean Feldmeier, president of the Hotel-Motel Association and general manager of the DoubleTree Hotel Spokane City Center. "However, we do need to keep in mind that the occupancy rate is low by industry standards and even by regional standards."
Feldmeier said hoteliers hope the expansion of the Spokane Convention Center will bring in more business and help keep occupancy levels at a healthy rate.
Worthy conceded that downtown hotels aren't always full. He said the Davenport wasn't full Saturday night despite today's Bloomsday race, which attracted thousands to the city. However, he said, "We're comfortable we're going to be able to make money with our hotel rooms. The proximity to downtown is the best."
In addition, Worthy said, his new tower will create a new niche. Both residents and hotel guests will have access to all hotel services, including a ground-floor restaurant for room service, concierge services, valet parking, housekeeping, grocery shopping, carwashing and private catering. Worthy said the hotel could provide almost any service a guest or resident would want. At a price, of course.
"The thing we're going to have that nobody else in town has is access to the services -- a la carte services as much or as little as anyone would desire," Worthy said.
Combining hotels with residential housing is a trend surfacing in cities nationwide, but is new to Spokane, said Keith Backsen, vice president of the Spokane Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. It's smart because during slow times at the hotel, rent and use of hotel services can offset losses, Backsen said. Money from sold residences can be used to pay debt, he said.
Worthy said his motivations for the project were to fill more rooms with convention participants, draw more use of the Davenport's 30,000 square feet of meeting rooms, and tap into the demand for upscale downtown housing.
"The hotel services give it a different dimension," Worthy said. "I think you're going to get a lot of retired people who might raise their hand."
Worthy's project joins several others that hope to tap into pent-up demand for downtown housing. In recent months, several projects have been announced, including lofts, townhouses and riverfront condominiums.
Jon Eliassen, president of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, said he attributes that demand to people looking for a different type of lifestyle. He sees a lot of people who travel frequently, don't want to take care of a yard, and want access to the cultural opportunities in a vibrant downtown.
Living in downtown Spokane, he said, "becomes a significant opportunity for people in their late '40s, early '50s, empty-nesters. We're seeing a society now where there's a significant amount of wealth in the baby-boom generation."
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