“Resort Lifestyle with Lake Vistas”
The story of the Red Lion Hotel & Conference Center begins with sweeping vistas across shimmering Capitol Lake, and the serene forests around it. From the hotel’s hilltop perch, just beyond the water you can catch glimpses of the bustling shops and dining hotspots of Downtown Olympia, all neatly hemmed in by the stately buildings of the Capitol Campus.
In other words, it’s the opportunity to immerse yourself in the lifestyle of a secluded, high-quality resort while still being within a walk of the city.
It was those hilltop views, and the proximity to downtown and the Capitol Building, that nearly 50 years ago drew developers to built the Greenwood Inn on the site as part of the expansion of the West Olympia neighborhood.
“What’s really neat about this property is the fact that it’s an iconic hotel in the state capital. There aren’t many hotels that can say that,” explained sales director Jeff Bowe. “You come to a hotel like this and you look around, and it’s just very uncommon to have a rather large, full-service hotel in a state capital — but one that also has that remote sort of resort ambiance.”
Remembers Red Lion night manager Bill Davies, who has worked at the hotel for 25 years, in the early days when the city was growing quickly lodgings were indeed lacking on that side of town.
“The original plan was for the hotel to be in where Capital Mall is now, but the city kind of put the kibosh on that,” he said. “So the developers found this spot and saw the terrific views, and decided to build here instead.”
Soon, the 12 forested acres had been gracefully landscaped around the spacious hotel’s 192 rooms and suites. With its outdoor pool and hot tub, 16,500 square feet of meeting space, banquet facilities that could accommodate parties of up to 700 guests, and the airy Water View Restaurant and Lounge overlooking the lake, the Greenwood Inn was soon “The Place to Stay” in Washington state’s capital city.
Davies, whose first hours of work at the hotel in 1991 started with the Inauguration Day windstorm that knocked out all the power in Thurston County, said that life at the hotel has always been just as exciting. Throughout its five decades, the Greenwood Inn was eventually picked up by the Holiday Inn brand, then bought out by Spokane-based Goodale & Barbieri real estate development company as part of its Cavanaugh’s group, and then rebranded with those properties to a WestCoast Hotel in 1999. It finally became a Red Lion in 2003, after WestCoast Hotels purchased that Vancouver, WA-based company.
“There was a point in there when the hotel was really in its heydeys,” Davies remembered. “All of the locals would come into the cafe to eat, and the lounge extended all the way back to where the lobby is today. There was a disco floor, and we’d have a band in there four nights a week. It was so crowded that when five people left the room, we let five more in. In Olympia, it was the place to be!”
The Red Lion continues its legend as the place to be, according to tourists and business travelers who comprise the hotel’s sizable repeat-guest market. Next to the lake vistas, the vast events space is its second hallmark: The hotel has more meeting and convention square footage than anywhere else in the Olympia area, and it’s the only full-service hotel with a restaurant and on-site catering capabilities.
“We can help you plan the everything, from the event to the audiovisuals to the menus, and then you can stay right on site overnight,” Bowe said. “We’re the only hotel around that’s able to give you the whole experience, from planning the meals and overseeing the event through check-out.”
Speaking of meals, catering is one area that the hotel has continued to develop and refine, especially in recent years. Besides for large events and meetings, the hotel — and its lush lawns and backyard gazebo with views over Capitol Lake — is a popular wedding site, where families can stage the entire event from the prior night’s dinner through the ceremony, reception party and honeymoon lodging.
“We like to invite people here and then let them be creative, whatever their event, then we let our catering team experts bring each event to life,” added Bowe. “Our goal is to continue to be a leader in the community when it comes to events. It's a major piece of what our establishment stands for in this area, and we want people to look to us to provide that environment.”
One Red Lion employee who’s particularly excited about the events opportunities embraced by the hotel is catering director Ann Sweeney.
“What attracted me to the job? As soon as I walked in I said, ‘There's all that space!’ she remembered. “The weddings are the best; you end up with such a sense of satisfaction, plus they're super-fun. It's fun to make someone’s dreams come true.”
Besides weddings, Sweeney is also in charge of overseeing and catering a swathe of gatherings that range from local business lunches around a la carte soup and sandwiches, and Halloween bash nachos and hot dogs at midnight, to 600-guest formal military balls, massive Legislative session meetings, and the 500-guest Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. Some days, even with 16,500 square footage of space, she said that it doesn’t seem there’s enough room for everything.
“But I like the details, really. I like making sure that all the pieces fit, and that they make sense operationally, as well as fulfill what the guest wants,” Sweeney explained. “I like working with them to figure that out so we can create something that’s successful from a strategic standpoint.”
That’s the whole idea behind the business of the Red Lion Olympia: Working with guests to create an experience that’s successful, no matter what the request. Currently the hotel is pushing forward on that motive on an even greater level, with recent renovations to lobby furnishings, fresh carpeting throughout, a new, free downtown shuttle service, and much more in the works with its new branding to improve the guest and event-goer experience. There’s even a new logo to mark the company’s dedication to providing higher quality service and amenities in coming years.
“When our guests walk in, we want them to feel at home. And when they walk out, we want them to feel nothing less than rejuvenated and excited for a return trip,” emphasized Bowe. “It's our responsibility to make sure they have that experience, and it starts with customer service. We make sure that when they come through the door that our hospitality team is ready to serve them — at every point in the hotel from the front desk to the housekeeping to the restaurant.
And it seems that the team at the Red Lion isn’t just ready to serve; they’re also happy and willing to do so.
That includes Bill Davies, who after 25 years said that he has never tired of his job. And there hasn’t been a single day that he hasn’t wanted to be there.
“What I like best about it is the people, the guests. I've made a lot of friends,” he said. “What would I tell people who haven’t stayed here? What a beautiful view it is. As for everything else, it’s pretty great now — and every time you come back, it will be even better.”