Vancouver Red Lion to close; 82 will lose jobs

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer and Gordon Oliver, Columbian Business Editor

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The Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, a landmark on the waterfront since the 1960s, will close Oct. 31, leaving 82 employees without jobs.

However, the hotel chain’s departure from the Port of Vancouver’s historic Terminal 1 may not be permanent. The Spokane-based corporation is negotiating with the port to build a replacement hotel as part of the port’s planned redevelopment of its property.

“This is a legacy market for us,” said Pam Scott, spokeswoman for the Red Lion Hotel Corp. in Spokane. “The Red Lion brand name started in Vancouver, Washington. We’ve had an amazing experience in that community as sort of our legacy, and we want to be part of that community moving forward.”

But in the short term, the 160-room hotel just downstream of the Interstate 5 Bridge is set to fade into history after one last Halloween.

No one expected the current Red Lion to survive too much longer. Caught up in the ongoing redevelopment of the adjacent Boise Cascade waterfront site, this year it lost its biggest banquet hall and part of its parking lot. Red Lion’s lease with the Port of Vancouver expires on Dec. 31. But port spokeswoman Magan Reed said port officials had been discussing keeping the hotel open while a new one was being built.

“We have been having extensive conversations with the Red Lion regarding their current operations, and their future on the port’s waterfront property,” Reed said by email. “Part of those conversations included the possibility of continuous operations during construction. Ultimately, the decision to terminate the lease early is that of the Red Lion.”

“The Red Lion has been a tenant and partner and really a community icon for decades,” Reed said in an interview. “We certainly are very sad to see their property close.”

Employees were told Wednesday of the Oct. 31 closure date, and port officials were notified later that day.

50-year history

The hotel and restaurant at Terminal 1 have a long and colorful history. Vancouver restaurateur George Gordon Goodrich was vacationing in Hawaii when he decided Vancouver needed a restaurant with the type of atmosphere he found on his trip. After exploring the banks of Columbia, he settled on an old prune warehouse and export terminal owned by the Port of Vancouver.

Terminal 1 became home to The Quay Restaurant & Bar, owned by Goodrich, in 1960. The hotel was added in 1962, and the complex, with its sailing-ship-themed dining room and adjacent tiki lounge, became the Inn at the Quay.

In 1973, the Quay was purchased by local entrepreneurs Ed Pietz of Ridgefield and Tod McClaskey of Vancouver, the founders of the Red Lion and Thunderbird Inn brands. The two kept regular tables at the restaurant, and it was there where they often entertained clients visiting their corporate headquarters on upper Main Street. The two men sold the chain in 1985.

This week’s closure announcement unleashed a flood of comments on Facebook from longtime Clark County residents who recalled visiting the hotel and restaurant for special occasions, listening to live music, or watching the annual parade of Christmas Ships on the Columbia River. Some said they had booked rooms for weddings or other group events after Oct. 31 and are now forced to change plans.

Carrie Schave, communications manager for Visit Vancouver USA, said the tourism organization has offered assistance to Red Lion and to other local hotel operators, who now will attract more business. The Oct. 31 closure “might mean we will have to relocate meeting groups, independent travelers, and others affected by this change,” she said. “We will continue to work with entities involved to ensure that visitors receive the information they need in order to best enjoy their stay here in Vancouver USA.”

Shirley Reilly, 83, of Cascade Park was visiting downtown Thursday morning with her daughter to see the progress on the waterfront development. They dropped in to check out the Red Lion, a place that stirs fond memories of visits with her husband.

“When he retired we had a party down there,” Reilly said. “After that, the family would go down for the Fourth of July.” Still, she said she’d noticed even a couple of years ago that the aging building has “been in need of repair for quite some time.”

Joseph Mollerus, the Red Lion chain’s vice president of operations, had his own personal emotions about the closure. The former Vancouver resident, in town to meet with employees, said he started working at the Quay at age 18 before moving up the corporate ladder, leaving the chain for a time and then returning. Mollelrus, 53, recalled that even as a child he and his family would come to the restaurant for brunch every Sunday after church services.

Mollerus, who formerly managed the Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay, said the hotel’s employees were generally upbeat, and he expressed confidence that all of them will be offered other jobs within the company. Red Lion has several other properties in the region. Also, job offers were coming in Thursday from other companies, he said.

Scott, the corporate spokeswoman, said employees “will receive severance based on the number of years and responsibilities at the property.”

Red Lion operates a network of 129 hotels with 14,730 rooms, according to its most recent financial disclosure report. Most of those hotels are operated under franchise agreements.

It’s not certain when a new hotel could open at Terminal 1. The next step in the Terminal 1 planning and review process is a public presentation Sept. 8 of a draft alternative development plan, followed by a Sept. 22 rollout of a final preferred alternative, the port’s Reed said. Once the master-planning process is complete, the proposed waterfront development will need to go through the city’s permitting process. That could be completed by the spring, she said. By then, the port hopes to have selected a hotel operator for the site.

Editor’s note: This story was changed to correct that Ed Pietz was a resident of Ridgefield.