Don't pull plug on hotel proposal yet
Hotel? Heck no.
That seemed to be the prevailing opinion as Meadow Lakes Golf Course and City of Prineville officials concluded a Thursday evening meeting introducing a new hotel proposal at the municipally owned facility.
Fairway Suites, a company that seeks out golf courses with the intent of adding lodging, approached the golf course and city leaders about five months ago. Would they be interested in a hotel chain building a 70-room structure on a 30,000-square-foot plot of land near the Meadow Lakes parking lot? At no cost to the city to build or operate it?
The idea piqued the interest of Golf Course Manager Zach Lampert and City Manager Steve Forrester, particularly because the hotel could boost business for the financially struggling Meadow Lakes Restaurant. On the other hand, it raised concerns. Was there enough room for parking? What about the impact to traffic on Meadow Lakes Drive? How would neighbors react to a hotel next to their property?
So the city essentially said they would listen to the offer and think about it. Local leaders wanted to learn what they could about the idea and then reach out to the people whom it would affect the most.
What city and golf course leaders heard Thursday evening is they should cut the cord on the idea immediately. Local residents in the audience of about 80 spoke emphatically against the proposal, one going so far as to say he was disappointed that city officials were even entertaining the offer. They said it would put too many cars on Meadow Lakes Drive, the only way in and out of the golf course. They wondered if it would drive down property values because of the way it would block view of the rimrock or allow lodging patrons to look into otherwise private back yards, and assumed it would. They worried that parking would not be sufficient and people would start parking on the street. Might crime increase, they asked, or what about the noise a hotel would cause at all hours?
The outcry prompted Forrester to twice remind the audience that no deals had been made, and no papers had been signed. They had just listened to the proposal and begun researching the local impact.
At meeting's end, Forrester asked for a show of hands, first from those who were OK with the city continuing its due diligence to determine whether the hotel proposal was viable. A few hands scattered around the room went up. A second question about whether the city should stop the process immediately drew a much larger number of votes.
Now, the Prineville City Council, whose job it is to direct staff on this proposal going forward, has an important and difficult decision to consider. They can direct city and golf course staff to sever ties with Fairway Suites immediately. Or they could decide, without making any type of official or binding commitment, to continue researching the proposal and how it would impact the community.
The latter of the two seems most prudent. This is not to suggest that the city should ignore what they heard Thursday. Instead, what it would mean is the city now has that input to consider while exploring the proposal in more detail. City officials didn't know for sure if or how the hotel would affect neighboring property values. Perhaps they could find that out. They could commit more in-depth research into property buffering options. Could there be a way to position a hotel where it won't block views of the rimrock or allow visitors to look into local back yards? Perhaps not, but it can't hurt to look into it. Maybe the hotel could be placed on another portion of the golf course property.
As long as the city doesn't commit to anything or spend a bunch of money, what does it hurt to keep looking at different angles? Couldn't city and golf course leaders hold another meeting down the road, armed with even more information and see if it makes a difference to neighboring residents? Also, consider that further research might prompt local officials to reach the conclusion that the Fairway Suites proposal just won't work at Meadow Lakes.
Hopefully, the city doesn't pull the plug on this just yet. As Lampert said Thursday night, this process is very much in its infancy. A little more due diligence can't hurt — and who knows, it might help.