Sunday was a day when you couldn’t tell if it was going to rain or shine, so maybe it was that atmospheric ambivalence that kept the crowds away from the Oregon Garden Resort.
I was hiking the exquisite Silver Falls State Park and decided to swing by the new operation to see how it was doing. The garden was quiet and except for a 50th anniversary celebration, the resort was also a subdued scene. Moonstone Hotel Properties of Cambria, Calif., took over management of the financially troubled Oregon Garden three years ago. Moonstone, which owns a network of about 10 inns, most of them in California and many with garden themes, then set about developing the resort, which sits adjacent to the garden, and opened it last September, a spectacularly bad time to open any new hotel.
The recession has hurt tourism around the state: the Coast is under water and even Ashland’s vaunted Shakespeare Festival isn’t immune. The lodging industry is seriously hurting. We reported in March that occupancy rates statewide were expected to drop below 59%, the post 9/11 figure, so when regional general manager Lynda Gill told me the resort was running at 70% occupancy for its 103 rooms, it sounded like good news. A lot of their business is coming from conferences (“We’ve been discovered by the state associations”), and they’re keeping business alive by focusing on the local market, and offering low-priced packages to lure customers.
What also is good news are the new jobs the resort (a modest collection of cottage-style lodging, a small spa and a main building housing restaurants and meeting areas) has created — 30 fulltime and 53 part-time positions — and the increased visitors to the area and the garden. Since September 2008 when it opened, Gills says 20,000 people have stayed at the resort. Garden attendance has increased from 40,000 to 50,000-60,000 (they’ve stepped up special events and summer concerts) and she says that the downtown Silverton merchants have noticed increased business. All of this may seem unremarkable, but at a time when unemployment is in record territory, at least the trend lines are going up, not down.
“Our long-term goal is to help revitalize the Oregon Garden,” Gill told me when I interviewed her three years ago. That’s a great goal and I hope it happens. I’ve always been charmed by the garden and I root for anything that will help Oregon’s rural towns. Silverton ranks as one of my favorites by virtue of this former timber town electing the nation’s first openly transgendered mayor.
Let’s hope the local economy has as much success as Mayor Stu Rasmussen when it comes to transforming itself.