BELLINGHAM - By a 2-1 vote, Port of Bellingham commissioners have approved the outline of a deal to bring a Holiday Inn to Bellingham International Airport.
Dissenter Mike McAuley said he liked the project but didn't like the location on a 3.77-acre site next to Interstate 5, just south of the Pacific Cataract Laser Institute on Mitchell Way, across the street from the passenger terminal. McAuley wanted the vacant land there to serve as a "visual buffer" between the freeway and the airport.
But Dan Mitzel, chairman and managing member of Hotel Services Group of Mount Vernon, said his company favored that site precisely because of its freeway visibility and its proximity to the terminal.
Southbound motorists will be able to see the hotel and get to it from the next exit, Mitzel said. Hotel guests will be able to get up in the morning and walk two minutes to the terminal, instead of waiting for a shuttle.
The port commission's Tuesday, April 2, approval of a letter of intent with Mitzel's company gives the port and the company 60 days to come to final terms on a binding lease agreement for the site.
Under the lease terms now tentatively developed, Hotel Services Group would get a 50-year lease with escalating payments, starting at about $177,000 a year for the first five years, the port's Real Estate Director Shirley McFearin told commissioners.
The company would be expected to start construction by mid-May 2014 and complete it 18 months later, but the company hopes to get it done sooner, McFearin said.
When completed, the $18 million to $20 million project would have 150 to 160 rooms, 7,000 square feet of conference space with banquet space for 200, and close to 300 parking spaces. Mitzel said 109 parking spaces would be underground.
Two executives from InterContinental Hotels Group, Holiday Inn's parent corporation, also attended the meeting.
Al Reingold, the Atlanta-based director of brand management for Holiday Inn, said his firm believes Holiday Inn is best-suited for Bellingham's airport, with a high percentage of leisure travelers.
"The higher end (hotel brand) is typically the corporate element, because leisure travelers are a lot more price-sensitive," Reingold said.
Mitzel said he expects the hotel's meeting spaces will provide a new attraction for business travelers and groups flying into Bellingham.
Ed Shaw, an Oregon-based regional director for InterContinental, said the Holiday Inn brand is well-known in Canada, and he expects Canadian travelers to be a significant part of the hotel's business.
Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, urged commissioners to approve the deal.
"The airport is a very strong economic engine for the community," he said. "I think this is one more strong piece to that."
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