Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Jan. 19, 2022

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What’s up with that? Thunderbird Hotel on Jantzen Beach in limbo

By , Columbian staff writer

I’m very concerned about the empty former Red Lion Hotel on Jantzen Beach in Portland. It’s a huge building and it’s empty. This is one of the biggest fire hazards in the metro area. I’d like to know the status of this huge vacant hotel. Who’s securing it? Are there squatters? It just sits there. You don’t hear anything about it. I see a potential here for a massive fire. I’d just like to know that this place is safe and secure.

— Paul Smith, Camas

For one thing, Paul, you alerted us to our own confusion about riverside hotels — which is which? which is closed? — so we’re glad to get this straight.

Puzzled? Perplexed? Perturbed? Does something out on the landscape have you scratching your noggin, wondering how and why?

Send “What’s up with that” questions to We’ll get them answered.

There are two big side-by-side hotels straddling Interstate 5 at the north coast of Jantzen Beach. They used to compete, even though they were owned by the same company — until both were sold and the downstream inn, now called the Thunderbird Hotel, closed in March 2005. The Thunderbird is the one directly across the river from Vancouver’s own Red Lion Hotel Vancouver at the Quay.

Puzzled? Perplexed? Perturbed? Does something out on the landscape have you scratching your noggin, wondering how and why?

Send "What's up with that" questions to We'll get them answered.

Why did it close? According to Rod Russell, director of operations for both hotels, “it’s all wrapped up in the Columbia River Crossing bridge project. That new freeway bridge, if it ever happens, it’ll be somewhere right around that building.”

Columbian archives describe a series of owners buying and selling both properties over the years. When the Thunderbird was closed by its most recent purchaser, there were plans to renovate and reopen it. That never happened.

Russell said the building has not been condemned — it’s for sale. But given the circumstances, the chances of a buyer coming through are “slim to none,” he said. Wal-Mart at one time expressed some interest in the site, according to Columbian archives. But that too has gone nowhere.

Meanwhile, Paul, we hope you can take some comfort knowing that the place not only has 24-hour security, a fully functioning fire detection and suppression system and regular inspections — it’s also visited by law enforcement and emergency responders from both sides of the river.

“The Portland SWAT team, Vancouver police and SWAT teams, both Portland and Vancouver fire, they all use that location for training. They’re very familiar with it,” Russell said.

The hotel east of Interstate 5 may share some history with its western neighbor — but reports of its death are, as Mark Twain said, premature. The Red Lion Hotel on the River-Jantzen Beach is very much alive and open for business.