Whittier inn up for auction; operators vow to hang on

Posted: Thursday, April 06, 2006

After years of financial struggles, the Inn at Whittier is in foreclosure, and is scheduled to be sold to the highest bidder on May 2.

Loan holder First National Bank Alaska has issued a foreclosure sale with a minimum bid of nearly $1.7 million on the hotel and restaurant that has an appraised value of $4.9 million.

Representatives of the inn, however, say don’t count on a sale.

“We have no intention of allowing this to go through,” said Cathy Lancaster, the inn’s office manager. “We still 100 percent believe in this project and the organization, so much so that the owners are even cleaning rooms.”

“We plan on doing whatever we need to do to move forward,” said co-owner Manuel Hernandez. “But it’s been a struggle.”

The Inn at Whittier opened in July 2004. Plans for the hotel and restaurant began in 2000, but poor organization and money management hampered efforts from the beginning. In 2003, the finances had gotten so bad that new investors were brought in, Lancaster said.

The new investors pushed to get the project finished. The inn was the first large-scale commercial building done in the small community in decades.

The 26,000-square-foot, 25-room luxury hotel features an upscale restaurant and bar. The four-story, timber-framed building is topped with a lighthouse structure that stands 70 feet above the ground.

It sits on waterfront property, offering guests scenic views of the mountains, glaciers and the Passage Canal, which leads out into the smooth waters of Prince William Sound.

The main detractor to becoming a booming business in Whittier is a 2.5-mile-long tunnel.

The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel offers the only land access in and out of the town. It is the only combined highway and railroad tunnel in the world.

The tunnel is opened to vehicles for a short time and only a few times a day, and that time is further shortened during the winter months.

“The tunnel is the problem,” Hernandez said. “For people to come and go at their leisure would be ideal.”

But that’s not likely to happen.

“It’s been a difficult winter,” Lancaster said. “It’s been hard to meet all the financial obligations,”

The hotel got behind on its bills and defaulted on its loan, and was served a notice of default this winter.

“During the past two seasons, we’ve learned from our mistakes,” Lancaster said. “We’re working to pay our past debts and to pay off the construction debt. We’re determined that we’re going to cure this thing and go on with the summer season that we’ve been planning.”

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