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Downtown Bremerton businesses expect boost from new Fairfield Inn and Suites
Workers put the finishing touches on the new Fairfield Inn and Suites last week, moving new furniture, completing the front landscaping and cleaning up the construction dust.
The 132-room hotel, which takes the place of Bremerton’s old City Hall, now open for business, is another major construction project the city says is a step toward opening up downtown in the evening and weekends.
Some local business owners are optimistic that the hotel will bring more foot traffic into their stores and restaurants, but skeptics said unresolved problems like parking and a stagnant economy mean the downtown district still has a long way to go before it becomes a vibrant retail hub.
“Everything helps a little,” said Don Stauff, owner of Boston’s Deli and Pizza on Burwell Street.
The opening of the Hampton Inn and Suites, downtown condos and the marina helped business, he said, so he hopes the Fairfield Inn will do the same.
In anticipation of the opening, some owners are positioning themselves for more customers.
Peggy Nord, owner of the Simply Renewed antique shop on Pacific Avenue, said she expanded her hours in anticipation of hotel foot traffic, opening her store from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays.
“It is a big deal,” Nord said of the new hotel. “Anything positive down here that can help will hopefully make people realize how valuable it is to have a business downtown.”
Managers at the new hotel said the accommodations will preserve business, keeping those who would drive to Silverdale due to overcrowding at the Hampton Inn.
The new hotel has close to 500 reservations and counting, said Michelle Tomlinson, senior sales manager for downtown’s two hotels. Reservations at the new hotel stretch through 2011.
Because of that extra space, Bremerton will be better-equipped to host three- and four-day conferences at the nearby Kitsap Conference Center at Bremerton Harborside, Mayor Patty Lent said. Previously, the downtown area could not accommodate all overnight guests in town for longer events.
Lent said she is working to persuade businesses to open on Sunday, like Nord has done, and add extra evening hours.
Another aim of the hotel is to attract people from the east side of the Puget Sound for weekend trips, a hope that neighboring businesses share.
“We’re hoping that a lot of people start coming from Seattle,” said Sindy Collins, owner of the Fraiche Cup coffee shop on Washington Avenue.
But the hotel’s impact downtown will be limited and won’t necessarily bring in new businesses as those in city government and hotel management claim, said Boston Pizza’s Stauff.
“It won’t attract more businesses, but it will help the businesses that are here,” he said.
The Fairfield itself, upon its opening, will reflect downtown’s challenge in attracting new businesses. Empty retail spaces are built into the property, joining the other empty storefronts along Fourth Street and throughout the district.
Han Kim, a partner at hotel developer Hotel Concepts, said there are no plans yet for the new commercial space.
“With the economy the way it is, we don’t have too many expectations,” Kim said.
Stauff was similarly skeptical, saying that if Bremerton wants to get serious about bringing new businesses downtown, it has to update its parking policies to accommodate local residents, not just build new hotels.
“Businesses aren’t going to come down here if there’s no place to park. It’s not very welcoming to people,” he said. “They’re not going to get people from Silverdale to come down and shop when they can go to the mall and park for free.”