Hollander Investments received a mostly cold shoulder, but also thanks for providing a chance for public input at a forum Monday on a Fairfield Inn and Suites the company has proposed next to The Ship Inn on the Astoria waterfront.
The company, based in Bellingham, Washington, has built and operates properties in Puyallup, Everett, Tacoma, Seattle and Portland. It bought the properties formerly occupied by The Ship Inn and Stephanie’s Cabin restaurants over the past couple of years.
It recently submitted plans for a four-story, 66-room hotel, repurposing The Ship Inn building as a lobby, kitchen and part of a dining area.
Attendees filled half of The Loft at the Red Building meeting hall. Many took issue with the style and boxy design of the nearly 45-foot-tall hotel and how it would block views of the Columbia River and Astoria Bridge. Several hoteliers and business owners in tourist-related industries voiced support.
The Bridge Vista portion of the city’s Riverfront Vision Plan limits shoreline development to 35 feet, or 45 feet with setbacks, to help protect views. The hotel would include balconies on the middle two floors, with the top floor set back without decks. The building is also slightly smaller than the 30,000-square-foot limit allowed in the zone.
“I’m not going to tell you that at certain points along Marine Drive that this building would not block your views,” said Michelle Black, an architect on the project. “Certainly, as you progress down, you will have more and less of a view … regardless of what building is blocking your view.”
The height of the building includes digging down 3 feet into the site, as far as the company could go, said Sam Mullen, an asset and development manager for Hollander Investments.
Some people also took issue with the exterior of the hotel — which would include synthetic wood siding, corrugated metal, rust coloring and other aesthetic nods to nearby buildings — calling it out of character with the surrounding city and the site.
The boiler in front of the proposed hotel, from the former White Star cannery, was designated a historical landmark in 2015 by the city’s Historic Landmarks Commission, along with surrounding pilings and ballast rock. As opposed to historic districts with prescribed looks for homes, The Ship Inn site requires interpreting the look of several disparate elements, Mullen said.
“In some ways, it’s kind of like, ‘take your best shot,’” he said.
The historic criteria for the area is more broad than prescriptive, and the building design tries to pull colors and elements from the surrounding site, rather than mimicking an old cannery building, Black said.
“We were really trying to go for a more modern take, using elements and materials — metal railing, rust-colored siding — things that would not detract from the site,” she said.
The proposed hotel must go through the Astoria Design Review Committee and the Historic Landmarks Commission. The hope is those public meetings will come in March or April, Mullen said, adding his company is open to another public vetting of the hotel similar to Monday’s meeting.
“We want you to like the building,” Mullen said.
The hotel would employ 25 people full time and up to 35 seasonally, Mullen said. Asked about the challenge of housing for employees, he said the hope is that aside from five or six managerial positions, many of the workers would be local youths starting out in their first job.
Hollander Investments, which had originally competed for the operation of the Astoria Riverwalk Inn, has also leased a strip of land from the Port of Astoria near Maritime Memorial Park. Near the end of the meeting, Mullen was asked about a rumor that his company wants to develop five Marriotts in the region. Part of the reason for the outreach to the community was to dispel such misinformation, he said.
“We don’t even know how successful we’re going to be on this first one, just from a city standpoint,” Mullen said. “We truly don’t. That’s why I told Marriott today, ‘I’ll tell you when I know stuff.’ We want to deliver a good product. We want to do a good job. We would love to develop a second hotel at some point, but we’re not even remotely close to planning anything because, we just don’t know.”