Banking on tourists

New motel owners chose Craig for growth potential

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Affordable Inns of Craig soon will be no more.

The 22-room motel on Victory Way, which is one in a chain of three motels in Colorado and one in Wyoming, is under new, independent ownership beginning Thursday and will sport the name Elk Run Inn.

"Basically what we're going to continue what (Affordable Inns) was trying to do," new owner Randy Looper said. "We're very excited to be in Craig."

New owners Randy and Cindy Looper are from Clear Creek, Iowa where they owned Lake County Inn, a 27-room motel. Their children, Kellie, 11, and Jeremy, 4, will attend Craig schools, Looper said.

Room rates and weekly rates should stay the same -- at least for now -- similar to the prices set by former owners John and Judy Holland, Looper said. As for other changes, the Loopers may fill in the outdoor empty pool and create a grassy barbecue area.

The Loopers looked at 60 other properties around the country but decided to purchase the Craig-based motel for the area's community atmosphere and a perception that Craig's spotty tourism base is growing into a year-round trend, Looper said.

"Craig is growing in its tourism," he said. "In 1979, there used to just hunting and it was that way for years. Now there's fishing, skiing and four-wheeling. The difference is, now you can make money year-round here."

Steve Miller, sales and marketing coordinator for Moffat County's Tourism Association affirmed Craig's tourism and visitor base is growing, albeit slowly.

"We're inching toward getting our year-round numbers better," he said. "We're getting there, it's just a matter of time. The hunting season is still our bread and butter."

Area motels and hotels are required to collect and report a 1.9 percent lodging tax, which goes to the Moffat County Tourism Association. Ten years ago, Craig's motel industry reported $6,287 in lodging tax revenue in the first quarter, but that number has increased almost 70 percent in this year's first quarter.

"That shows that we've grown a lot," Miller said. "In the last four quarters we've reported $20,000 or more each quarter."

John and Judy Holland, the former owners of the Affordable Inns, have purchased another motel in Montrose. They said that although the fall's hunting season provided an influx of temporary guests in Craig, a significant number of workers associated with the area's energy industries make up much of the motel business here.

To accommodate families and guests who stay for weeks, the Hollands overhauled the 22-room motel a few years ago, adding full kitchens in each room, new electrical wiring and a host of cosmetic improvements.

As the Loopers settle in, the Hollands ready to take another stab at remodeling a motel; this time they'll add kitchens to 25 rooms of their Montrose-based San Juan Affordable Inns 52-room motel.

In college, the couple cut their teeth on re-opening and running a lodge atop the Grand Mesa near Grand Junction. It later was established as the site for military's winter games, Holland said.

While there's little question that hunting season, which lasts from September to November, attracts the year's most concentrated number of visitors, Cindy Contreres assistant manager of Craig Super 8 motel questioned whether Craig's motels would ever experience full occupancy rates year-round.

Last year's hunting season, which corresponded with a retrofit at the Tri-State Generation Power Plant, found most motels with full occupancy rates and motel employees who were forced to turn away customers. But that was an anomaly, Contreres said.

"That was a fluke," she said. "We probably won't see that for another seven years."

While she reported that the motel enjoyed brisk business last fall, Contreres doubted the motel industry could be profitable year-round because of a lack of activities for children and families.

"There's no place to send people," she said referring to a day recently when a baseball game was rained out. "The bowling alley and the movie theater don't open until the evening. In the wintertime it's still pretty slow."

Despite the lodging industry's winter lull, Contreres said Craig's motel market isn't saturated. When asked whether she would open a motel in Craig given her knowledge of the industry, Contreres said she might.

"It would be a small operation, probably a bed and breakfast," she said. "I think that could be profitable."

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