Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pooling business resources — King’s Inn owners invest in extensive remodeling effort

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The new pool and Jacuzzi at the King’s Inn in Kenai is as well-traveled as many of its visiting swimmers will be.

Owner Rob Gray had the equipment towed up the Alaska Highway on a trailer this summer from California. He looked into shipping rates, and kept on looking when he saw the prices.

“I had a friend down there that wanted to drive a truck up here. I told him I’d pay his gas if he’d tow this up,” Gray said.

“This is probably the first pool to come up the Alaska Highway.”

The 25-foot, in-ground pool and 17-foot hot tub are two of the most noticeable changes to the King’s Inn from the outside, since their instillation necessitated ripping out part of the front facade of the building. But they are far from the only changes.

Gray and his wife, Anne, bought the building last summer. In that year they’ve had all 52 rooms completely remodeled, adding new furniture, new carpet and losing the outdated wallpaper.

“We basically gutted the rooms and went from the dry wall out. It’s been a long, long process,” Gray said.

He said the room remodeling finished up just in time for the busy summer tourism season, which has been augmented with over 50 commercial accounts, including construction workers from the Lowe’s site next door.

With summer winding down, the hotel’s larger-scale remodeling project is kicking into high gear. The existing lounge and banquet area were torn out, along with part of the front wall of the building, so the pool and Jacuzzi could be moved in. As of Thursday the holes had been dug and the equipment was in the ground. Walls are going up to create a new exercise room and a remodeled meeting room, and a host of subcontractors will be brought in to do the associated finishing work.

Gray said he’s got all the building permits he needs and is just waiting on approval from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for approval on the pool. The DEC regulates public swimming pools in the state. He said he’s hoping to have water flowing within a month or two.

The facility will probably have some kind of access to the public — to rent out for birthday parties, for example.

“Whatever works out for what the community wants,” Gray said.

The Daily Bread restaurant that shares a wall with the pool area is not being affected by the construction and still is open for business.

Gray said the impetus behind the extensive remodeling was Kenai’s economic growth.
“Because Wal-Mart is coming in,” he said. “I know in Wasilla they added 500 new jobs to the community. They’ll probably do the same thing here. … There’s going to be a lot of people coming in to shop from the Bush areas at the Wal-Mart. We just expect to provide facilities for them, and for the community.”

Gray wanted the King’s Inn to offer something different in the area.

“Every hotel around here has a bar, but nobody has a swimming pool,” he said. “… We’re going to offer a lot more services and amenities here to the community and guests, to travelers and businesspeople.”

The Grays live in Wasilla, where they own Alaska’s Select Inn Motel. They also own apartments in Anchorage and property Outside. They moved to the state as teachers in the Bush about 20 years ago and began doing property investing about 18 years ago. They’ve been managing their properties full time now for 14 years. Out of their six boys, one is graduated and helping with the family business and another two plan to graduate college next year, one from the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University, the other to go on to study optometry. The other three are still in primary and secondary school.

“All our kids learned to swim in hotel swimming pools up in Alaska,” Gray said.

Gray said he learned of the King’s Inn being for sale through a friend who does hotel feasibility studies in the state. He thought the area’s economy looked promising enough to warrant purchasing the building, which was appraised in June 2008 at $1,723,000. Gray said he’s put about a half million dollars into renovations.

“I think it’s a pretty safe bet. With Wal-Mart going in it’s going to bring a lot of growth to the area, a lot of new jobs. And there’s a lot of commercial demand. You just have to compete and have a place nice enough to attract people,” he said.

Gray said he’s also planning to redo the exterior of the building, but probably not until next summer. In the meantime, manager Judilee Forrest and staff are hoping to keep busy showing off the new décor.

“It’s been great,” Gray said. “From the previous owners we’ve more than doubled the revenue from the summer, just with the remodeling and new ownership, and we expect it to continue to improve with the swimming pool and everything.”

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