When local people start investing in their existing businesses or launching new ventures, it is a hopeful sign of economic recovery. That kind of financial commitment comes only when entrepreneurs feel confident they will see a reasonable return on investment.
There are many such signs around Thurston County these days, and two in particular deserve notice: the recent purchase and grand plan for the struggling Olympia Country & Golf Club, and the renovation of the Governor Hotel.
Private golf courses were scrambling long before the Great Recession began in 2007. Once the elite place for dining, entertainment and recreation in every community, private country clubs were the epicenter of social life.
But aging memberships, a cultural shift away from club memberships generally and competition from new, high-quality public courses, have forced many clubs into desperate financial straits. Then, the recession came, and golfers just stopping playing as often. The 86-year-old Olympia Country & Golf Club had not yet hit bottom, but it was struggling.
Fortunately for the local club, there was a benefactor among its membership.
Angela Bowen, a retired endocrinologist and founder of the Western Institutional Review Board, has purchased the club and plans to spend as much as $10 million over the next few years improving the scenic property overlooking Budd Inlet with a convention center banquet hall, formal dining rooms, a pool cabana, a new clubhouse with lockers and casual dining, and expanded parking, among other amenities.
The property, with its views of Mount Rainier and the inlet, is a jewel of the community. Bowen’s purchase and improvement plans give hope the club will survive and even enjoy new status as a center of social activities.
After all, legendary golfer Byron Nelson shot his personal best score – a 59 – on the 18-hole course.
Down at the heart of Budd Inlet, the classic Governor Hotel is finally getting a much-needed renovation of its 125 rooms.
The hotel is an iconic structure in downtown Olympia, positioned close to the Capitol Campus and with spectacular panoramic views from the highest of its eight floors. Its interior appeal had fallen behind current trends, but the new design of its rooms combines vintage styling with modern technology in the form of large, flat-screen televisions, iPod docks and espresso machines.
The investment by the hotel’s owners, Governor House Hotel LLC, means it, too, has the potential to once again become a busy hub for business travelers and tourists, and inject new energy into another sector of downtown.
Add in the City of Olympia’s plan to resurface The Washington Center for the Performing Arts with a new exterior, and an all-new architectural design, and the heart of the downtown area appears to be gaining an upscale new vibe.
It’s encouraging to see others making major reinvestments. It gives us hope the economy will gradually get better.