Columbia Gorge Hotel will be more than twice as large when the historic landmark celebrates its centennial in 2021.
City of Hood River Planning Commission on Monday approved what amounts to the largest step in the hotel history since Simon Benson built it nearly a century ago.
Barring appeal, owner A-1 Hospitalities will build a three-story, 80-room building just west of the existing hotel by 2020, owner Vijay Patel said Monday. The existing hotel has 40 available guest rooms to go with its lounge, restaurant and banquet facilities. Expansion is needed to ensure long-term financial viability, Patel said. The new building will be an angled one, to be placed due west of the existing hotel. The west lawn will be retained.
Assistant planner Jennifer Kaden said, “The location was chosen to avoid interfering with natural features identified in the National Historic designation.”
Formally, the commission approved A-1’s request for a Conditional Use Permit and property line adjustment in order to separate existing hotel parcel from the parcel to be developed.
“Over the years, since we purchased the hotel in 2009, we have done a lot of improvements which have helped us to grow the business, and now with this approval we will take the hotel to the next level and keep the historic site intact and welcome visitors from all over,” said Patel, who presented to the commission along with his son, Taran, hotel general manager Eddy Vanrenterghem and architect Mark Vanderzanden.
“We want to preserve the legacy and integrity of the gardens,” Vanrenterghem, said.
“The (planning commission) decision gives us a green light to Mark to get moving on the design, and at the same time we will begin working on financing,” Vijay Patel said.
“Our best interest to do it as quick as possible,” Taran Patel said.
A Final Order (a revised version of the staff report that includes the revisions made by planning commission at the hearing) will be signed by acting planning commission chair (Vice Chair Arthur Babitz). With that Notice of Decision, a 12-day appeal period will begin, likely on Thursday, according to Kaden.
Some trees and natural features will be removed to make way for the new building. It was retention of trees, and protecting those slated to remain, that formed the commission’s largest concern with the proposal. As a result, the commission stipulated that the company produced a certified arborist’s report stating how trees will be protected. The commission adopted Kaden’s recommended language that the development be required to avoid “compromising the trees’ longevity.”
A century-old oak between the old and new building was specifically identified for preservation. Commissioner Tina Lassen said she understood the economic need to expand but lamented the loss of two 60-foot fir trees.
“The trees are as old as the hotel, and three or four are specimen trees,” Lassen said. “Do we lose three of four beautiful trees to keep a beautiful hotel in business? I don’t have an answer, I mainly wanted to see what others felt.”
“We will do everything possible to protect those trees,” Vijay Patel said. “We love those trees, we love the gardens, and we don’t want to destroy them. That’s the charm of the National Historic Site.
“I think it was a good healthy discussion,” Patel said. “I am glad the commissioners made the decision in favor of the approval, which is badly needed to sustain current operations. We look forward to a good future down the road.”
Commissioners questioned the petitioners at length over the plans to add no new parking to the 129-space complex, despite the large expansion; at that figure, the complex will be just short of the total number of spaces required when combining staff parking and the ratio of one-car-per-room, but the Patels said the parking will be sufficient for all the hotel complex’s needs, in part because of increased monitoring of the lot during peak summer months. Most guests staying at the expanded hotel, during peak wedding times, will be guests at the hotel anyway, creating minimal extra demand for parking, the Patels explained. Much of the staff is on hand during the day, when many cars have left for the day as guests are out at other activities.
Speaking on behalf of the proposal, long-time Hood River floral designer Lucy Gorman said that before the 2008-09 closure the hotel was typically home to 100 weddings a year, and said “parking was adequate before and it will be adequate again.”
No one spoke in opposition to the request, and support was heard from the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association and several local hospitality providers including Martina Rossi, who owns the hotel’s spa operation.
Patel explained the economic viability argument this way:
“Mainly, we have a huge manpower requirement because of banquets, restaurant and lounge, and the housekeeping crew we need. With the revenue from 40 rooms and the amount of profit we have in the restaurant and the bar, it does raise enough revenue to cover all the expenses. With more rooms, we are going to get more guests staying at the hotel, which will help our ancillary revenue, the restaurant, the bar, the spa, will get additional revenue which they will be able to sustain their operations so the additional guest room revenue will help our other departments.
“The existing restaurant and lounge is quite big enough to take care for the expansion. The current staff level we have at the restaurant and lounge is going to be more than enough to cater for the additional traffic we will be generating.”
Tarin Patel said staffing will increase from 15-18 full time employees to 25; part-time employment will increase from 70 to more than 100.
That will include a bellman on duty 24 hours a day, and a full-time elevator operator for the hand-operated elevator, along with expanded live music.
Ted Horwitz of The Dalles, who performs weekends in the lounge, was among the proponents of the proposal to speak Monday.
“Our goal is take people back to 1921, and having someone operate that elevator and handle your bags will enhance those experiences,” Taran Patel said.