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Vancouver, Washington: Plenty of Room for Building or Expanding Hotels

By Paul Craig, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 18, 2007 - The vacancy sign appears to be lit for developers interested in building or expanding hotels in Clark County.

As many as eight lodging projects have been talked about at varying degrees of seriousness, according to Kim Bennett, president and chief executive officer of the Southwest Washington Convention and Visitor's Bureau. The projects aren't all likely to happen in the next two years and some won't happen at all. But despite higher gasoline prices this year and tighter travel budgets the number of hotel rooms locally is increasing as business for existing hotels continues to grow.

According to bureau statistics, occupancy of the 2,350 hotel rooms in Clark County in August was up nearly 7 percent from August 2006. Room rates were up, as well.

Growing demand apparently has triggered construction of a 92-room Holiday Inn Express at 4005 N.E. 72nd Ave. near Westfield Vancouver mall and an expansion at The Heathman Lodge, located in the same general area.

The Holiday Inn Express is to be owned by Sonmar Development Corporation, based in Fargo, N.D. The company had previously owned a Sleep Inn, Holiday Inn Express and Comfort Suites in Vancouver until selling each one three years ago. Bob Fleming, controller for Sonmar, said the market was down, but the company now believes another hotel would be viable for the area. Others aren't as sure.

Just three blocks away, The Heathman Lodge is preparing for additions that will cost "several million dollars," though an exact figure won't be known until all planning is complete, according to Brett Wilkerson, lodge general manager. The project will include 4,000 square feet of meeting space and an additional 35 guest rooms, with the hope of starting construction in spring 2008.

Heathman executives believe that's as many additional rooms as necessary to meet demand. The hotel currently has 142 rooms.

"If we saw the need for another 100 guest rooms, we would have built them," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said he isn't worried about the Holiday Inn Express competition, but admitted he's surprised it's happening.

"I don't know what they're looking at," he said. "It's different information than what I'm looking at."

Fleming said his company sees "demand generators" for the area, specifically the Express location's easy access to Interstate 5, Interstate 205 and state Highway 500. The new hotel will also be near Staybridge Suites, as well as the Heathman.

Fleming said Staybridge caters to extended-stay guests, while the Heathman satisfies higher-end clients. He said the new Holiday Inn Express will provide another alternative.

"It's not necessarily a negative," Fleming said of the close quarters of the three hotels.


Clark County's Top Five Hotels (By number of rooms)
Hilton Vancouver Washington: 226 rooms.
Red Lion Hotel at the Quay: 160 rooms.
Heathman Lodge: 142 rooms.
Residence Inn by Marriott: 120 rooms.
SpringHill Suites: 119 rooms.


Strategic growth

The growth in local hotel rooms isn't negative either, Bennett said, as long as it's a "slow, strategic growth process."

"If all of those popped up in '08 or '09, we would be in trouble," she said about the potential for eight new hotels. "You don't want to be moving the business around in the county. You want to be generating new demand."

Brett Lucas, associate planner with the city of Vancouver who is working on the new Holiday Inn Express, said he was not aware of any other hotel projects that have filed permits or paperwork with the city.

East side need

Bennett said the most obvious need for a new hotel is on Vancouver's east side. She said new developments will help the local industry as a whole if they draw travelers who may have otherwise decided on a hotel at Portland International Airport, for example.

Competition hasn't yet hindered overall Clark County industry success, as the average occupancy rate this year through August was 58 percent, up from 55 percent in the same eight months in 2006.

While not at capacity, statistics show that there is money being made from travelers to Clark County. Visitors' spending increased here an estimated 11 percent to $364 million in 2006. That's 43 percent more than in 2001, according to a Washington Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development report.

The amount spent on lodging in the county in 2006 was $41 million, 22 percent higher than 2005 and 48 percent higher than 2001. Clark County's figures are also increasing at a greater percentage than the state average.

Hotels rooms in the county haven't increased as drastically over that time. The openings of the Marriott SpringHill Suites in Vancouver and Best Western Inn & Suites in Battle Ground were offset by the closure of Ferryman's Inn in Hazel Dell, with its 132 rooms, earlier this year.

Update

Previously: Marriott SpringHill Suites in Vancouver and Best Western Inn & Suites in Battle Ground opened this year, adding 165 rooms in the county, offsetting the loss of 132 rooms when Ferryman's Inn in Hazel Dell closed.

What's new: Construction has begun on an expansion at Heathman Lodge.

What's next: Plans are moving forward for a 92-room Holiday Inn Express at 4005 N.E. 72nd Ave., with the hope of starting construction in February. Developers have looked at as many as eight new hotel projects in Vancouver.

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To see more of The Columbian, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.columbian.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.

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