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This article was originally published June 3, 2013.
By Evan Marczynski
The Bellingham Business Journal
Two new hotel developments less than one block from each other in north Bellingham should be completed this year, including one that will eventually feature more rooms than any other hotel in Whatcom County.
While the projects have faced delays over the past several years due to financing troubles tied to the economic recession, both construction sites are now bustling with activity.
On Northwest Avenue, the first phase of a Marriott hotel project should be finished by late August or early September, said Shaiza Damji, managing director of the Lynnwood-based 360 Hotel Group, the project’s developer.
The first phase features a 122-room SpringHill Suites, and once that’s completed, work on an 83-room TownePlace Suites next door should start within six months, she said.
Within sight of the Marriott development, a La Quinta Inn on Bakerview Road should also finish up later this year, said Dale Sweeney, a Bellevue-based architect connected with the project.
Damji said 360 Hotel Group began scoping out sites for a new hotel development in Bellingham in 2007. They purchased the Northwest Avenue property in 2009.
“We picked Bellingham because we felt it had a strong leisure and corporate market, and there hadn’t [yet] been a new sort of business-class hotel,” Damji said.
Business for hotels and motels in Whatcom County has risen over the past decade.
In 2012, travelers to the county spent about $163 million on accommodations, an increase of 52 percent from the amount spent in 2002, according to a March 2013 report compiled by Dean Runyan Associates for the Washington Tourism Alliance.
Total travel-related spending in Whatcom County hit $595.5 million last year. That’s up more than 10 percent from 2011.
In terms of visitor spending, the county now has the fifth-highest travel industry revenues in the state.
The county’s hotel market took a hit last December, when the 200-room Semiahmoo Hotel in Blaine closed, putting 300 people out of work and complicating event and travel plans for others.
But Damji said good business opportunities exist for new hotels in Bellingham.
The SpringHill Suites and the TownePlace Suites, both Marriott hotel brands, are distinct from one another, although in Bellingham the two facilities will be operated jointly by 360 Hotel Group.
When factored together, the hotels will feature 205 total rooms once both phases are complete. Combined, they could eventually employ up to 80 people.
Damji said SpringHill Suites features large rooms with separate work and sleeping areas. TownePlace rooms, on the other hand, cater to the extended-stay market, and resemble small studio apartments or condos with attached kitchens.
The TownePlace Suites will likely be marketed to corporate travelers and people relocating to Bellingham from other areas of the country, Damji said. SpringHill Suites will support travelers from both the business and leisure markets, she added.
Damji said Canadian travelers will likely be a significant component of the hotel’s customer base. 360 Hotel Group also plans to take advantage of the nearby Bellingham International Airport by operating an extended stay “park-and-fly” program, allowing overnight guests to park their cars at the hotel and take a shuttle bus to the airport’s terminal.
The growth of the Bellingham airport was not a factor initially when the company picked the Northwest Avenue site for the new hotel, Damji said. But traffic at the airport is expected to drive business, she said.
The airport will be an integral component for another planned hotel project in Bellingham away from the location of the Marriott and La Quinta developments. A Mount Vernon-based company called Hotel Services Group LLC plans to build a Holiday Inn across the street from the airport’s commercial terminal.
In June, commissioners of the Port of Bellingham, which owns the property the Holiday Inn would be located on, are expected to vote on a lease agreement for the new hotel.
The Holiday Inn would feature 156 rooms, a full restaurant with a separate entrance, an indoor pool, underground and surface parking, as well as about 7,000 square feet of conference rooms and meeting space.