Downtown’s new Pacific Blue Inn brightens up lower Pacific Avenue
The elderly man with a walker who didn’t want to take the stairs; the Arizonan who insisted on being “green”; the carpet-phobic Swedish couple that loves bamboo floors; the bride and groom who wanted to rent out a hotel for their wedding party without breaking the bank.
These are just a few of the visiting characters that the Pacific Blue Inn in downtown Santa Cruz has seen walk through its doors recently. Contrary to the name, the inn, which has been open less than a month, is actually a “green” inn with many environmentally sound aspects. The elderly man with a walker who didn’t want to take the stairs; the Arizonan who insisted on being “green”; the carpet-phobic Swedish couple that loves bamboo floors; the bride and groom who wanted to rent out a hotel for their wedding party without breaking the bank.
These are just a few of the visiting characters that the Pacific Blue Inn in downtown Santa Cruz has seen walk through its doors recently. Contrary to the name, the inn, which has been open less than a month, is actually a “green” inn with many environmentally sound aspects. It is built of sustainable, mostly recycled materials, painted with soy-based paints, runs a low-flow water system, and is illuminated by fluorescent lighting. Self-described on its website as having “an eco-conscious heart with local flair,” the inn features the art of a different local artist in each of the guest rooms, and local photography and sculpture in the lobby – all on consignment, in case any guests feel inclined to invest in a Santa Cruz creation.
But perhaps its most unique offering is that each of its nine rooms are wheelchair accessible, a trademark of the builders, Easy Access Development, a local company that makes all of its projects “wheel-chair friendly.”
Debbie Quigg, one of the owners, says that while the ADA requires large hotels to accommodate for people in wheelchairs, it isn’t often that small bed and breakfasts do. “A lot of times at cute, quaint places like this it is hard to find wheelchair accessibility,” she says. And she would know – she and her husband Joe are both in wheelchairs, and started Easy Access Development after moving to Santa Cruz eight years ago and having difficulty finding places that were accessible. Their mission with Easy Access Development was to make accessibility a priority in all of their projects.
“We wanted to invest our money in a way that was benefiting society as well as making money, and we made the decision that everything we did was going to be wheelchair accessible,” says Joe. Although they have yet to draw in any guests in wheelchairs, they are happy to know they are providing the option.
The bed and breakfast officially opened Memorial Day weekend, and is slowly slipping into the summer travel season. One sunny afternoon in mid-June, just a week before the inn’s one-month anniversary and coinciding with the Grand Opening party on June 25, the Quiggs are sitting in the hotel’s quaint courtyard with their business partner, Michael Avignone. Avignone is the innkeeper and breakfast connoisseur, whipping up delectable homemade pancakes, popovers, baked frittatas, fresh berry preserves and jams for his guests every morning. Along with complimentary bicycles to borrow, boxes of chocolates and bottles of wine for those staying two or more nights, Avignone says guests save big on the hearty breakfasts. “Our breakfasts, if you went out for them, would be about $25 per head,” he says, his thick New York accent immediately distinguishing him from a California native.
A bird’s raucous squawks echo from an overlooking rooftop, intrusive but not quite irritating enough to spoil the serenity of the small oasis of stone ground, iron patio tables, flower planters and a small fire pit. The hotel itself is somewhat of an oasis; a bright blue, uniquely angular establishment along one of Pacific Avenue’s drabber stretches. But with another new hotel being built down the block, a new restaurant going in on the corner of Laurel and Pacific, and a condominium complex in construction across the street (another of the trio’s projects, which they promise will be brightly painted, as well), the owners say the area is improving as a whole.
“This way you have a nice area from the water to downtown – it makes sense for visitors,” says Debbie.
According to Maggie Ivy, CEO and executive vice president of the Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council, paving a tourist-friendly path from the wharf to downtown has been a long-standing dream for the local travel industry.
“Historically, that has been a goal for a lot of people in the community and the industry, [and] Pacific Blue Inn’s presence only helps to see that vision realized,” she says.
City leaders are optimistic that tourism, which is the city’s largest industry, will prove fruitful, if not merely stable, throughout the economic recession.
In a recent interview with GT, City Manager Richard Wilson said the visitor sector may be the local economy’s saving grace in current times thanks to a recent increase in the quantity and quality of hotel rooms in Santa Cruz. Between the newly remodeled Dream Inn, the La Bahia project, the upcoming new Marriott, the Holiday Inn Express, and the opening or remodeling of several smaller establishments, the city’s hotel and sales tax revenues are sure to see a boost.
Ivy says that in addition to the construction of new establishments, the improvement of existing hotels is vital for the local travel sector.
“New hotel product remodeled is really important to the tourism industry, [because] we need to see continued investment in our lodging inventory,” she says. “We are very excited to see what seems to be more investment in the hotel industry, not just new rooms but owners improving their current facility.”
But even with new offerings like the Pacific Blue Inn and huge remodels like the Dream Inn, Santa Cruz isn’t seeing the desired numbers of overnight visitors. Ivy says that the day trip business is strong so far this year, “which is in keeping with the predictions that people are going to be travelling closer to home” because of the broken economy. Overnight business hasn’t been faring as well.
“The segment of the travel market we’re concerned about is the overnight traveller, which is the most lucrative portion,” she says, adding that the local hotel industry saw a 20 percent decrease in occupancy during the first quarter of this year.
“Our hope is that there’s going to be pent up demand and, in July and August, people will finally decide to take that summer trip,” says Ivy. It seems the city is hoping so too, as they have decided to maintain their level of funding for the Visitor’s Council — $386,562 – despite the fiscal crisis. This decision was largely based on the fact that tourism has a high economic multiplier: according to a 2001 city study, for every one dollar spent in tourism promotion, nine dollars of revenue are generated.
And although people aren’t travelling as much this year, Ivy says that the “green-ness” of Santa Cruz hotels and businesses will be a big draw. “A lot of travellers now realize they need to take their good green practices with them when they go on vacation, [and] Santa Cruz really offers that opportunity,” she says.
Pacific Blue Inn, which is up for a Green Builders Award from the city, may have opened during a recession, but its owners feel that creating a sustainable, accessible, friendly hotel will prove a worthy investment.
“Everyone gets nervous when there is a recession … but we feel it is going to work,” says Joe. “We are filling a niche that is not being filled now.”