SEASIDE - A Holiday Inn Express is planned for Holladay Drive.

Al Wexler, a longtime Seaside property owner, confirmed plans this week to develop an 80-room hotel at 34 N. Holladay Drive as soon as possible. The one-time Safeway store at the prominent site has served as the home of other businesses and vacancies, most recently Tony's True Value Home Center which closed last summer.

Wexler recently completed the purchase of the property working with a bank based in Everett, Wash., for financing, he said. As soon as plans are approved, he hopes to start construction this year.

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The owner inquired about trying to salvage the fish mosaic on the east wall of the building, lining Holladay Drive. Artist and contractor Michael Hinton inspected the mosaic this week and said the effective bonding of the tile to the brick reduces the feasibility of protecting the original work.

"We're anxious to get the project started in anticipation of the Bicentennial," he said, referring to major crowds expected to venture to the North Coast for the commemoration of the Lewis and Clark expedition in coming years. "We are trying to put it on a fast track."

If all goes well, including weather, the work possibly could be complete as early as April or May of 2003, Wexler said.

A hotel operator considered the site when it was for sale three years ago, he said. A hotel is "the highest, best use of that property," he said.

The 283-room Trendwest Resorts project at the Turnaround will serve a different clientele based on its vacation credit and timeshare system, while local demand for hotel and motel rooms will continue, Wexler said.

He is working with Holiday Inn because he and his wife have been impressed with the professionalism and comfort of the chain, he said.

The project will require the demolition of the former Safeway building, capped by its broadly curving roof, which opened in 1961. In announcing the hotel plans, Wexler also has floated inquiries about the feasibility of salvaging the building's distinctive, massive fish mosaic on the east wall.

The hope has been to move it and possibly incorporate it in the hotel design, he said.

Michael Hinton, an arts instructor at Clatsop Community College who recently completed a mosaic at the Sunset Pool entrance, inspected the tile work Tuesday. "I've been interested in that mosaic as long as I've been here, from an artistic point of view," he said.

After using saws and chisels to inspect a corner of the mosaic, Hinton concluded that saving it would be challenging and costly.

"It would be hard to do it without defacing the tile," he said. "The tile work was mechanically bonded to the concrete brick ... It was put on extremely well."

Saw-cutting and relocating the entire 64-by-8-foot wall would be "an engineering feat," he said. To recreate the tile in the same design would be far cheaper, roughly estimated at $12,000 to $18,000, Hinton said.

In any event, Wexler continues to refine plans for the project. He also has signed an agreement with the city to allow public parking at the site this summer, partially offsetting an expected shortage of parking space.

Wexler's involvement or ownership of Seaside properties have ranged from office buildings to the McDonald's Restaurant and Hollywood Video. He and his wife were raised in the Portland area but visited Seaside often as children and were fortunate in the 1970s to acquire a home on the Prom, he said.

He considers the town a special and hospitable place to live as well as visit, he added. "Over the years, we have always enjoyed Seaside."