CHIC PREVIEW When the Holiday Inn Express opens at the eastern entrance to

When the Holiday Inn Express opens at the eastern entrance to

Sequim in mid-November, owner Bret Wirta plans to raise the bar for accommodations in the area.

"We will offer customers a little more value than the typical economy-priced hotel," Wirta said.

Among the extras: a rooftop garden, access for disabled persons to the pool and Jacuzzi area, a 250-seat conference center and rooms larger than are typical for Holiday Inn Express.

Wirta hopes that extra soundproofing and a free "upscale" hot breakfast will add to the draw.

The rooftop garden required a height variance from the city of


"We had a good experience with the city," Wirta said. "We appreciated their assistance."

During a sneak preview tour of the 77-room facility on Thursday, Aug. 13, Wirta said, "We worked with the franchise for a waiver to add the conference center."

Black Bear Diner nearby

Wirta plans to begin work on a Black Bear Diner adjacent to the hotel but the time frame for that is not yet clear.

"We're confident that the bank we're working with will move forward with it," he said.

The conference center can be fully catered from the diner, which will have a good menu to accommodate the catering, Wirta said.

Adjacent to the conference room, a pre-function area provides space for catering support, a prep area or a quiet room where conference-goers or wedding guests can converse but still be near the main meeting hall.

Another feature Wirta has added is office space for rent to businesses that support the traveling public's needs.

AAA will occupy one of the offices and the other still is available. The AAA office will support both AAA's travel and insurance functions, Wirta said.

Damian Humphreys, sales and marketing manager for Wirta Hospitality Worldwide, said, "Boomers and older people tend to be AAA members. We're listening to the needs of the community."

AAA has been making monthly visits to Sequim offering its services at Quality Inn and Suites, which Wirta owns.

Humphreys and Wirta oversee a sales force in Seattle that is working to bring new convention business to Sequim with a pitch that offers about 85 percent of the big city hotels' amenities at about one-third to one-half the price.

The rural surroundings also may provide more of a retreat atmosphere than a city conference offers, Wirta said.

"We couldn't survive on what's already coming to

Sequim," Humphreys said.

"I want to make Sequim a destination."

The sales force is generating interest in future conferences in Sequim, but with the opening still about three months away, Humphreys is not ready to announce details.

Beyond the conference business from outside the local area, Humphreys and Wirta are working with local businesses and organizations. They hope to attract weddings and are exploring ideas such as dinner theater.

With two hotels in Sequim, Wirta said he's returning to his roots. He grew up in a mountain resort area in New England, where his grandparents managed a hotel.

After a 25-year career in sales, Wirta sees his future in the hospitality business.

"The days of just building a hotel and saying, 'Here I am,' are over," he said.

"You've got to have a plan."

Reach Sandra Frykholm at sfrykholm@sequim

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