Harbor 360 Hotel owner Tom Tougas has two additional lodging projects in the works, both of them on Third Avenue. Although the two projects are moving forward simultaneously, Tougas says that they had divergent origins and answer to different kinds of lodging demands.
The first, already going up on the corner of A Street and Third Avenue and due to be finished in February, will have ten units equipped for multi-week stays. That structure will answer a need for economical lodging for professionals working temporarily in Seward or others needing a place to stay while they seek out long-term accommodations, Tougas says.
The other, a new hotel to be erected on the gravel lot between Third and Fourth Avenue south of Scheffler Creek, is aimed specifically at tourist groups. That building will also incorporate a “community events center,” which Tougas says will remain available year-round.
“The ten-plex is basically extended stay is what I’m calling it,” Tougas said. “We get lots of requests from people like the Coast Guard and Providence and people who are going to be in town for two months. What they always say is they want to be able to cook their own meals.”
The leaders of several area organizations – including Seaview Community Services, Providence Seward Medical Center and the Seward Community Health Center – have previously said that a lack of affordable housing has caused difficulties hiring and maintaining staff.
That challenge, in part, convinced Tougas to embark on the extended stay project, he said.
“I’m on the board at Providence … and we spend half our time talking about the challenges of housing in Seward,” Tougas said. “Specifically, we’re concerned about the fact that they can’t hire lab technicians or nurses or whatever.”
“They were just talking about the problem of transitional housing and extended-stay type housing and I was driving from the hospital back to work, and I noticed a sign for those four lots on Third Avenue: ‘For Sale.’ And I said, ‘That’s a perfect place.’”
Tougas expects the ten-plex to rapidly reach its capacity.
“I have no doubt that there is ten times the demand that we can fill.”
The hotel project answers a very different demand, in part specific to the needs of Tougas’s other businesses.
“As you know, most of the people who arrive in Seward as visitors or as tourists arrive either by bus or by train or by cruise ship,” Tougas said. “So one of the challenges in the current Harbor 360 is that it only has one elevator – which works fine until you have a bus group pull up, and you have fifty people waiting at the bottom of the elevator.”
The building frame may be up as early as September, Tougas said, but the first step is to prepare the ground on the lot. That calls for process called vibrocompaction, Tougas says, which aims to increase the strength and density of the underlying soils, particularly to prevent soil liquefaction during an earthquake.
“The initial field investigation identified liquefiable soils that they decided they wanted to remediate,” said Amy Steiner, a geotechnical engineer with PND Engineers, whom Tougas hired to work on the project. “When you have these liquefiable layers you have a high risk of loss of bearing capacity of the soils.”
Vibrocompaction involves driving a pile into the ground and vibrating it to promote soils around the pile to settle.
“As they pull the pile out of the ground, they’re putting gravel down the hole … so we’re filling in the void,” Steiner said. “The density of the soil overall is increasing.”
PND and Discovery Drilling were on site Tuesday measuring the soil strength after several test compactions done by Catalyst Marine Engineering, the firm owned by Tougas’ son Joe Tougas. PND will compare the results against a baseline study conducted beforehand, Steiner said.
Tougas has used the lot in question for a number of years, but was only able to contemplate developing it this year, he said. It has previously served as a parking lot and as storage for Hertz rental cars.
“Originally when I bought it 15 years ago, the lady who owned it from Los Angeles didn’t want me to do any development on it until I paid her off,” Tougas said. “And I finally paid her off this year.”
The lot was also home to a concrete structure that had historically housed Seward broadcasters, reports Seward Public Radio. That structure was partially demolished on Friday. Developing the lot also required the vacation of an easement for a now gone transmission tower and its guy wires, according to platting documents.
The new hotel will also distinguish itself with the presence of a dedicated space for group functions.
“At the [Harbor 360 Hotel] we don’t have really good facilities for things like quilt retreats and the rotary Christmas party and wedding events and that kind of thing. We don’t do much of that in the summer, but we get lots of requests. I’m calling it a community events center and it will be especially good for groups from 50 to 100.
“I intend to have it available year-round.”