Semiahmoo Resort proceeds with shutdown

Published on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 by Brandy Kiger

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December 1 has come and gone, and with it came what some have called “the end of an era” as the Semiahmoo Resort shut its doors on a long and storied history. The once grand hotel now sits empty at the end of the Semiahmoo spit, with its doors chained and padlocked. 

The spa’s shelves have been picked clean, with merchandise being parceled out at 75 percent discounts up until the day of closing, and more than 200 workers have been laid off in the wake of the hotel’s financial troubles. Though there has been talk of potential buyers, nothing concrete has developed that would 
guarantee a future for the hotel. 

Semiahmoo Resort Company, LLC, announced the closure of the hotel on October 31. In addition to the hotel, the health spa and hotel’s two restaurants, Stars and Packers, have also closed. The Semiahmoo Golf & Country Club and the Loomis Trail Golf Club remain open for business.

“It’s sad,” employee Melodie Hildebrand said. Hildebrand has worked in the resort’s spa for the past three and a half years. “It’s like an era is folding up before us,” she said. “It’s a beautiful piece of property. I hope someone comes and opens it back up.”

The property began its commercial life in 1891 as a salmon cannery owned by the Alaska Packers Association (APA). The cannery packed and sold canned sockeye salmon and shipped it to San Francisco. “It was sold all over the world,” historian Marj Reichhardt said. “Semiahmoo was the biggest cannery in the area and had the deepest port. It was often the last stop for many of the big sailing ships.” 

The cannery was bought by Del Monte in 1916 and they owned it until the early ’80s when it was bought by David Syre’s Trillium Corporation. 

The firm had big dreams for the property. The old cannery buildings were restored and refurbished, creating what Reichhardt described as a state-of-the-art resort. “Packer’s Lounge was the old fish house. It was one of my favorite rooms. They really tried to stay true to the architecture. It was a lot of work.”

The resort quickly became a draw for tourists and welcomed guests that ranged from couples celebrating their anniversaries to corporate retreats for Microsoft to high-profile clients such as Barbara Walters and Margaret 

Thatcher. Golf Digest rated Semiahmoo’s golf course as the number one new golf course in its opening year. “There was a huge local dynamic that happened when Semiahmoo came in,” realtor Kathy Stauffer said. “It had a huge impact on the community.”

The 198-bed resort opened on June 3, 1987, and since the area had been incorporated into the city of Blaine prior to the hotel’s construction, it became a significant source of tax income for the city. Now, its closure has left the city scrambling to make up a potential $535,000 shortfall in the 2013 budget. 

Much of the city’s budget comes from revenue generated by the resort from property taxes and hotel/motel taxes. “It’s a real problem for the city,” Blaine City Council member Ken Oplinger said after the shutdown was announced. “[Semiahmoo] provides the vast majority of our hotel/motel tax revenue, and they are one of the largest property taxpayers in the area. It’s somewhere in the 90 percent range.” 

Though its management changed numerous times over the years, Semiahmoo Resort Association president Debbie Smith said it was never noticeable, at least from the outside looking in. “It’s always been kind of seamless. There’s been a lot of changes with the resort in the past 25 years, but to have it close its doors, I don’t think anyone thought that would really happen,” she said. “It’s a very difficult situation as a whole. For the community it’s a huge loss. My office faces the hotel, and I’m sitting here facing an empty parking lot. It’s mind boggling.”

On Saturday, spa employees finished clearing up, and security officers made sure the hotel was locked up tight. “I wouldn’t say it’s somber,” Hildebrand said of the hotel’s atmosphere in the closing days. “It’s just disappointing. Everyone is internalizing it, but people are moving on.” Hildebrand said she was one of the fortunate ones who had other work to fall back on in the wake of the hotel’s closure.

Hopes are high that the hotel will reopen in the near future under new ownership, but it’s not certain if or when that will happen. The Skagit Tribe, who are part owners of the resort, said that they are trying to broker a deal to sell the resort. 

“We’re in discussion with some folks but don’t have anything in writing yet,” Harry Chesnin, an attorney for the Skagit Tribe said regarding the sale of the hotel. “Nobody is happy about the prospects, but [employees] will be paid through the end of