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Payette study confirms a pent-up need for hotel rooms in western Idaho

The recently constructed Cobblestone Hotel in Soda Springs. Both Weiser and Payette are talking to the hotel chain about building a hotel in their small western Idaho cities. Image courtesy of Brimark Builders Inc.

Payette City leaders say they’re optimistic about a plan to build their community’s first chain hotel, after a favorable feasibility study.

Fifteen miles to the north, officials in Weiser are also encouraged by the findings of the Payette study, believing it confirms more hotel rooms are generally needed along the U.S. Highway 95 corridor. On July 16, Weiser secured more than $6,000 from a USDA rural development grant to commence its own hotel feasibility study. Washington County funded the remainder of the $8,500 Weiser study, which should begin within three weeks and take about two months to complete.

US-95 is a transportation artery stretching between Mexico and Canada, and is a popular route for people who are traveling to the University of Idaho in Moscow and northern Idaho tourist destinations. But there are no chain hotels serving travelers on a nearly 500-mile stretch between Winnemucca, Nev., and Lewiston.

Payette has a single, small lodging facility that offers rooms by the week. Most visitors to the scenic community of about 7,500 cross the border west into nearby Ontario, Ore. Weiser, a city of about 5,500, has a couple of small, locally owned motels.

“That (study result) really is a game-changer for both communities,” said Kit Kamo, executive director of Snake River Economic Development
Alliance, which promotes development in Washington and Payette counties in Idaho and Malheur County, Ore. “There are a lot of activities and tourism that happen in the Payette-Weiser corridor. (A hotel) opens the door to having people stay more days in your community and see more stuff, spending more money while they’re there.”

According to the Payette study, completed on June 15, Payette can support a 56-room hotel with a swimming pool, a bar and lounge and a hot breakfast for travelers. The cost of construction would be around $5 million, and the hotel would support 12 to 18 full-time jobs, plus part-time workers. In the hotel’s first year, the study estimates the hotel would average a nearly 60 percent occupancy rate and generate about $1.2 million in room revenue.

Payette City Council President Craig Jensen said hes nearly certain a chain restaurant would build near the hotel. Jensen has long advocated for a chain hotel to provide needed lodging under a familiar brand for guests. But he was surprised by the size of hotel the study confirmed Payette can support.

“I was hoping not only to get a recommendation, but also a recommendation for at least 40 rooms,” Jensen said.

Leaders with both Payette and Weiser have been talking with Cobblestone Inn & Suites and say they have good leads on investors. Jensen and Payette Mayor Jeff Williams attended the grand opening of the Soda Springs Cobblestone Inn last fall and were impressed by the quality of the facility. Williams said four potential sites have been identified in Payette for the hotel, and three already have sewer and water access.

“I’ve always felt there’s a huge need here,” said Williams, who is also a real estate broker.

Phoenix-based Core Distinction Group, which specializes in analysis of hotels in rural markets, conducted the Payette study and will also work on behalf of Weiser. Jessica Junker, managing partner with the consultant, said 85 percent of communities in the country are small and are overlooked by big developers.

Junker said most communities have strong feedback supporting the need for a hotel before they approach her company, which is a key reason
why about 19 of every 20 studies demonstrate a need for more lodging. The primary function of studies is often determining “if they need 10
rooms or 60 rooms.”

“We used to say a 35-room property was financially feasible, but construction costs have gone up so much now, we have to be around the 45 mark for a property to be feasible,” Junker said.

Junker spent time in Payette evaluating potential sites, talking to more than a dozen local business leaders about their lodging needs and studying other factors such as traffic volume. Other business leaders completed surveys and phone interviews, and Junker also analyzed demand at Ontario hotels. Junker believes a Payette hotel would accommodate the community’s special events.

She said she strives to offer conservative estimates.

“I’ve never seen an area where there is nothing, like this area,” Junker said of the void of local hotel rooms.

Patrick Nauman, owner of Weiser Classic Candy and chairman of the Snake River Economic Development Alliance, said his city’s past leaders had the foresight to install sewer and water lines along US 95 in preparation for development. Nauman said he’s been approached by potential local investors for a Weiser hotel.

“We host a fair amount of business meetings and sports events, but most of them are one-day events right now,” Nauman said, explaining event organizers would likely opt to lengthen their schedules if the right accommodations were available.

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