One indicator of the health of the local hotel industry can be seen on East Broadway in Missoula, at the Campus Inn, where management knocked out a few rooms to make space for a gourmet hot dog shop that's opening this week. "Tourism is down, room rentals are down, so right now, I think this is a great idea," the Campus Inn's Tom Dooley recently told KPAX.
Another indicator came last week in the form of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Missoula's 101-room Hawthorn Suites near the Missoula airport is struggling, and according to the local franchise's owner, Missoula businessman Thomas Poindexter, the business needs to renegotiate the interest rate on its loan to ensure solvency.
Poindexter says business has been "decent" since the hotel opened three years ago. "I don't think it's different than any other business in this economy," he says. "It's tough going and I think it is for a lot of people in town, whether you hear about it or not."
Missoula has 44 hotels with a total of about 3,100 rooms, according to the Missoula Convention and Visitors Bureau. A hotel construction boom began on North Reserve Street in 2006, with the completion of the Hilton Garden Inn. Since then, a Holiday Inn Express and a Staybridge Suites opened across the street, and the Hawthorn opened closer to the airport, near where a Wingate Inn opened in 2003. There's a proposal to build another hotel downtown, at the southwest corner of Orange and Front streets.
Has Missoula already overbuilt? "Possibly," Poindexter says.
Barb Neilan, director of the Missoula Convention and Visitors Bureau, doesn't think so. "I don't want to say that we've overbuilt," she says, "but it's taking time for the economy to roll back around to the levels of where we were before. And it's coming. ... I think our tourism season this year, from all indicators, is going to be good, even with the scare we had for a while on gas prices."
Poindexter points to a different issue: Missoula's "negative business climate." He doesn't offer specifics. He's hopeful he can work with his lender through the bankruptcy reorganization process to change the terms of the loan and stay in business. "We've survived and will continue to survive," he says. "It's just that it's not the business that it's really talked up to be."