Chambers Bay hotel finally in striking range

From the Editorial Board

A golf course crew waters the grass late in the evening to prepare for the final day of practice at the U.S. Open championship at Chambers Bay. A pair of hotel developers hope to capitalize on stunning views like this.
A golf course crew waters the grass late in the evening to prepare for the final day of practice at the U.S. Open championship at Chambers Bay. A pair of hotel developers hope to capitalize on stunning views like this. News Tribune file, 2015

It doesn’t take much time to be smitten by the rolling dunes, sweeping Puget Sound overlooks and stunning Olympic Mountain vistas at the Chambers Creek Properties in University Place.

Many have fallen head over heels — and not just people who’ve slipped on the fine-fescue grass slopes dotting Chambers Bay Golf Course.

The treasures of the 900-plus-acre site are enjoyed by joggers and dog walkers on the Soundview Trail, picnickers in Central Meadow, and golfers who’ve tested their mettle on the Scottish links course. Thousands of others have admired the property from afar during network coverage of the 2015 U.S. Open championship.

Hotel developers have admired it, too. At least four previous attempts to get a project off the ground have whiffed.

Because of several factors — bad timing, recession-era financing barriers and constraints placed on the land because it’s owned and held in public trust by Pierce County — Chambers Bay still doesn’t have the golf-resort cachet it deserves.

The county, in turn, has been deprived sales tax revenues. University Place has gone without its first and only hotel rooms and associated city tax dollars. And the South Sound region has missed out on spinoff tourism benefits.

Now there’s reason for optimism, with the county’s announcement in August that two private development teams have filed rival plans to build a $45-$50 million hotel, restaurant and clubhouse project.

One team boasts an attractive local cast of characters: Dan Absher, of Puyallup-based Absher Construction Co., and Dan Putnam, a Tacoma developer who also happens to be the dad of two professional golfers, Michael and Andrew Putnam. The team also would retain Kemper Sports, the company that has adroitly marketed and managed Chambers Bay since before it opened in 2007.

The pièce de résistance, garnishing the proposal like a cherry on top of a Dahlia Lounge dessert, is the involvement of Tom Douglas. The world-famous Seattle restaurateur (and avid Chambers Bay golfer) has signed on to open his first restaurant outside the 206 area code.

The second team shouldn’t be discounted just because its principals are from out of state. While the Florida businessman and Texas golf management company at the top may be less known, the county is very familiar with consultant Robert Trent Jones, the architect who designed Chambers Bay. The team also has ties to the Cohen family, the force behind the Point Ruston waterfront development.

With either team, the best part of the deal is that the hotel would make a light footprint and wouldn’t hamstring public access to trails, play areas, open spaces and view spots. “Both are compact developments that are built into the hillside, don’t overwhelm the site, and keep the unimpeded view of the Olympics,” county parks director Tony Tipton told The News Tribune’s Editorial Board last week.

This ought to be a non-negotiable point, given that Chambers Creek Properties encompasses one of the largest public parks in a county with fewer acres of parkland per resident than any of Washington’s major urban counties.

Competition between the two teams can’t help but lead to a better outcome — like iron sharpening iron, as the biblical book of Proverbs says. Because one team says it would add trails, the other likely would, too. And as one team pledges to be certified for efficient energy and environmental design, so will the other.

The hotel proposals, neither of which exceeds 160 units, stand in contrast to the behemoth three-to-four story, 220-room hotel pitched by Los Angeles developer Bob Sonnenblick in 2014. That structure would’ve stuck out like a sore thumb. “People had a visceral reaction to it,” County Executive Pat McCarthy told the Editorial Board.

The county and Sonnenblick ended their two-year courtship in January, which is just as well. He wouldn’t proceed without a space-hogging, second 18-hole golf course. County officials wisely stuck a fork in that idea.

“What they’re now planning,” Sonnenblick told a reporter in January, “is a very small, inconsequential development that we’re not interested in.”

We’d describe it differently: a right-sized development that generates local revenue; preserves public open space, expands opportunities for weddings, conferences and gourmet dining; and burnishes Pierce County’s reputation as it seeks to host another U.S. Open and other high-profile golf tournaments.

To most ears around these parts, that sounds consequential enough.

County open house

What: See drawings and comment on two competing proposals for hotel project at Chambers Bay.

When: Thursday (Sept. 8), 6 to 7 p.m.

Where: County Environmental Services Building, 9850 64th St W, University Place.

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