KALAMA — In just one year of business, the city’s mayor said McMenamins Kalama Harbor Lodge has “changed Kalama for the better.”
Kalama Mayor Mike Reuter said McMenamins and the Port of Kalama have made the waterfront a “first-class recreation destination.”
“They’ve been a great partner for Kalama and brought in good business,” he said.
The hotel opened last April 20 at the port after a decade of talks and nine months of construction. It includes 40 rooms and multiple restaurant and bar spaces.
The building is inspired by city founder John Kalama’s Hawaiian heritage. Rooms are named for prominent Kalama community members such as community activist Shirley Lowman and historical figures such as Eliza Jane Meeker.
Councilwoman Mary Putka said the lodge honors the history of the city.
“It’s always hard to change, especially in a community as old as Kalama and as traditional, but I think it’s been all good,” she said.
The lodge also does a lot to be a part of the community, Putka said. McMenamins regularly hosts Friends and Family Nights during which 50 percent of total sales are donated to a cause. Upcoming events include fundraisers for the Kelso High School Class of 2022 and Youth and Family Link.
Putka said concerns that the lodge’s pub would local restaurants were quickly dashed.
“They’re all busier,” she said. “It’s totally increased tourism and interest in Kalama.”
Taryn Nelson, Kalama Chamber of Commerce treasurer, said since the lodge opened there’s been a noticeable increase in foot traffic downtown. McMenamins also contributed to the growth of community events, such as the Festival of Lighted Boats, she said.
“Before, visitors would just come for the day and then they’re gone,” Nelson said. “Now they’re staying overnight, putting those heads in beds, spending more time and generating more tax dollars because they are using restaurants and gas stations. It’s a domino effect that really helps every business in town.”
April Hoffman, owner of Ella Gray Home & Gifts, said her downtown Kalama shop sees a good amount of foot traffic from McMenamins visitors.
“I’ve started to have some repeat customers that have come in from there,” she said. “I think with summer weather coming shortly we’ll see more of that.”
The increase in overnight visitors also means a boost in the city’s hotel/motel tax revenue. City Clerk and Treasurer Coni McMaster said the annual revenue in 2017 was less than $4,000 in 2017. In just seven months of 2018, the revenue jumped to $25,000.
State law restricts the use of the funds to tourism activities or promotions designed to attract overnight tourists. In October, the Kalama City Council allocated $2,000 each to the Untouchables Car Club, Pacific Ohana Foundation (Kalama Heritage Festival organizer) and the Kalama Chamber of Commerce. The council also approved paying $680 for an “antique district” sign on Interstate 5 to help bring in visitors.
The city budgeted $25,000 in hotel tax revenue for 2019. It’s budgeting cautiously in case revenues decrease when the “newness” of McMenamins wears off, McMaster said.
However, McMenamins spokeswoman Renee Rank Ignacio said interest in Kalama Harbor Lodge hasn’t waned yet, even during the off season.
“In the beginning we saw so many people there, but people kept coming back,” Rank Ignacio said. “We can’t say thank you enough for helping us be a part of it and grow and be part of the community.”
Rank Ignacio said as expected, most visitors come from Washington and Oregon. The lodge houses many weekend travelers and business visitors stay during the week, she said.
Port Executive Director Mark Wilson said McMenamins provides a perfect spot for port tenants to host clients.
The additional people increases demand for law enforcement and emergency services, Nelson said, but overall, McMenamins has been a good addition to Kalama, she said.
“I’m thankful they chose our community and are helping other people discover Kalama because it’s a great place,” Nelson said. “It’s bittersweet but exciting. We’re on the edge of more growth.”