Local business owner hopes to bring hospitalitiy to East Washington Street

With gas prices soaring, more and more residents are spending their vacations at home, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing for the tourist industry, especially Sequim's.

"As long as we have a tank of gas we're going to stay at home and visit all the wonderful places we have around us," Sequim-Dungeness Chamber of Commerce interim executive director Caroline Cooper said.

According to Cooper, Washington state has seen a small increase in tourism, which is good news for people like Bret Wirta, owner of the Sequim Quality Inn on River Road. Wirta spoke at the chamber's May 27 luncheon.

Wirta grew up in the hospitality business. His grandparents owned a resort in New Hampshire where Wirta grew up, and in 2003 Wirta went into the resort business himself, buying the four acres on River Road, which would later be home to Quality Inn, Applebee's and Taco Time.

"We wanted to give Sequim a hotel it could be proud of," Wirta said. "We're making sure that business comes back to Sequim."

Wirta's latest project, Washington Street Plaza, will be located on the city's east end along Washington Street, and will include a Holiday Inn Express and a Black Bear Diner. According to Wirta, the project should be completed in a year.

"We've been slow on getting the design," Wirta admitted. "We're a little bit behind."

Earlier this year preliminary plans for the Holiday Inn Express came before the city's Board of Adjustments to obtain a height variance. According to city code, no building can have a height above 35 feet without being granted a variance. The proposed Holiday Inn Express hotel was seeking a variance to build up to 45 feet, 9 inches.

Working with the planning department, the hotel's owners devised a plan that would create a public roof garden, covered elevator shaft and stairway as well as a small storage unit and pavilion.

"We should have nice views of the water," Wirta said.

In February, Wirta said that he and his associates had spent $200,000 in additional costs to plan and design the roof garden.

"We wouldn't necessarily do this project if the public couldn't have access," Wirta said.

When asked if a city mandated building moratorium would effect the Washington Street Plaza project, Wirta said that the project already had been approved by the city for sewer and water.

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