Port allows Holiday Inn development at Bellingham airport to go forward

A proposal to build a Holiday Inn next door to the Bellingham International Airport will move ahead after Port of Bellingham commissioners voted, 2-1, to approve a preliminary letter of intent from the project’s developer during a public meeting on April 2.

Mount Vernon-based Hotel Services Group LLC plans to build the hotel on about 3.77 acres of port-owned property on Mitchell Way, just south of the Pacific Cataract Laser Institute and across the street from the airport’s commercial terminal.

The 156-room hotel will include a full restaurant with its own separate entrance, an indoor pool, underground and surface parking, as well as about 7,000 square feet of conference rooms and meeting space, which will range from smaller board rooms up to a full-scale ballroom capable of hosting larger events, said Dan Mitzel, chairman and managing member of Hotel Services Group, in a presentation during the meeting.

The construction cost will be about $18.5 million. Once operational, the hotel and connected restaurant could employ up to 100 people, according to Shirley McFearin, the port’s real estate director.

Commissioner Michael McAuley cast the dissenting vote on the proposal’s approval. McAuley said he supported the hotel development, but just not at the site that was chosen as its future location. He said he would prefer to leave the currently vacant land on the east side of Mitchell Way empty to serve as a “visual buffer” between the airport and the freeway, in part to help minimize negative impacts of the airport’s recent growth that has been reported by some residents who live in nearby neighborhoods.

Yet the location was a deciding factor for Hotel Services Group, Mitzel said. The property will allow hotel guests to walk directly to the airport’s terminal instead of having to take a shuttle, as is the case with many other airport-adjacent hotels, he added.

The site also allows for good visibility from southbound traffic on Interstate 5, Mitzel said.

Both Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Loni Rahm, president and CEO of Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism, spoke during the public comment portion of the April 2 meeting and urged the port commission to approve the plan, saying the Holiday Inn would bring tremendous benefits to local business and tourism.

Now that the letter of intent has been approved, the port and Hotel Services Group have 60 days to develop final leasing terms for the development. The port commission is expected to vote on a final agreement in June.

Hotel Services Group will be responsible for completing all site improvements, including surface and sub-surface parking, at its own expense. Construction at the site would start by May 2014 and improvements would need to be completed within 18 months, according to the agreement.

The agreement also states that the hotel’s final design must be approved by the port prior to any construction.

Expanded coverage of the Holiday Inn development will be featured in the May print edition of The Bellingham Business Journal.

Evan Marczynski, lead reporter for The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or evan@bbjtoday.com

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