The city by the river has a new neighbor. Soldotna's newest resident plans to open its doors for business Monday. Aspen Hotels will add a fourth property to its chain when the 63-room hotel checks in its first guests next week.
Company President George Swift said the hotel will attract state clientele and help accommodate the growing population of visitors to the area.
"It's an Alaska chain for Alaskans," he said. "There was a lack of hotel rooms in the area and the peninsula is growing."
The $3.5-million project took about a year, from conception to opening, and will be the first hotel on the Kenai Peninsula with an indoor swimming pool. The Aspen Hotel is situated just off the Sterling Highway on Binkley Circle.
The company has been in Alaska for six years. Aspen Hotels vice president and Swift's partner, Carol Gilliam, said properties in Fairbanks, Valdez and Juneau were aimed at one market that prevailed beyond tourism.
"We had hotels around state that cater to gas and oil industry," she said. "And Soldotna really fit into that mold."
Sixteen-year Soldotna resident Linda Anderson is the general manager. She said the first weekend in business will be a busy one, with many of the rooms booked by travelers coming for the Alaska Schools Athletic Association Region III 4A Basketball tournament.
Anderson said although the property is new, she anticipates the chance that some minor bugs may have to be worked out in the beginning. But she said many of the people making reservations have acknowledged this possibility and are still eager to stay there.
"I think most people understand we are new and there are going to be a few things that need to be adjusted," she said. "They said they didn't mind and were coming anyway. That's what is great about Alaska. There are a lot of people who have started their own businesses and know what we're going through. People are always willing to pitch in."
Gilliam said the new hotel has taken steps to be a good neighbor in Soldotna, from hiring practices, to joining area business organizations and planning community involvement.
"It was really important to hire a local GM that already had a history in the community," Gilliam said. "We hope to sponsor softball teams (or) baseball teams. And we joined the local associations."
Anderson said the hotel has already joined the Soldotna, Kenai and Homer chambers of commerce. Some of the work she's put into preparing for opening had her on call around the clock.
Janna Yessak, of Soldotna, cleans the carpet of one of the guest suites at The Aspen Hotel of Soldotna Saturday prior to the hotel's grand opening.
Photo by Marcus K. Garner
"I've had the reservation system and the phone number in my home for two months," she said. "People would call as early as 4 a.m., and I would rush to the phone to make room reservations. I don't mind it, though. I'm a morning person and I like talking to new people."
Anderson said the hotel will staff between 15 and 20 year-round. Among those working to prepare the hotel for opening day is night auditor Jon Hagen of Soldotna. He said he was so eager to work for the new hotel he got a head start on the hiring process.
"When I saw this building going up, I said this was for me," he said. "I found out who was the VP before jobs were advertised, and I contacted Carol and sent her my resume."
Anderson said the beginning hires have been taking on all kinds of responsibilities in preparation for the grand opening, growing together as a team as a result.
"I've hired a fine bunch of people," Anderson said. "In the beginning, it was like, 'everybody do everything.' Now, when we all go home, we feel like we're a family."
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