Obie Hospitality launches from eclectic base

EUGENE, OR—The number five—in one form or another—has figured prominently in the life of Brian Obie, who in late July decided to solidify his ongoing interest in the hotel industry by launching Obie Hospitality LLC.

An entrepreneur with two eclectic properties in his lodging portfolio—Inn at the 5th here and Inn at 500 Capitol in Boise, ID—Obie is formalizing his relationship by creating a hospitality division within Obie Companies, his eponymous development business he leads as president/CEO.

Brian Obie (left) with Inn at 500 Capitol GM Curt Asmussen

“We don’t develop and sell; we develop and hold, and now hospitality has become a major part of that. The other interests are commercial and industrial. Hospitality is a growing part that we like a lot and see a future in,” Obie told Hotel Business.

Obie may be envisioning the same type of future for hotels that he saw some four decades ago when he invested in—and now owns—this city’s Fifth Street Public Market, a compendium of retail shops, cafés and restaurants, provisions market, bars, a winery and professional offices that’s now considered the cornerstone of Eugene’s Historic Market District “and the principal visitor destination in our community,” said Obie, who once also served as a councilman and mayor of the city.

Native to the area, Obie followed in the footsteps of his father, Gordon, who in 1959 created Obie Outdoor Advertising, later becoming its president and subsequently selling its assets to 3M Media Corp. Among other interests, in 1987, he founded Obie Media Corp. and served as president/CEO. After separating from its parent company Obie Industries Inc. in 1996, Obie Media Corp. launched an initial public offering, subsequently trading on NASDAQ. The company was later acquired in January 2005 by Louisiana-based Lamar Advertising Co.

So what’s next? With the Fifth Street Public Market doing well, Obie again saw the future and in 2012, opened Inn at the 5th, a conversion of retail space at the market.

“In my work over the years, I’ve traveled quite a bit and I found myself staying in boutique hotels, and one in particular: the Inn at the Market in Seattle,” he said. “Its proximity to the Pike [Place] Market, it became obvious to me, was significant in terms of its success. About 30 years ago, I had said if I ever had the opportunity to include [lodging]into our development, we would do so. So about seven years ago, I started on that track.”

Obie admitted he thought the 119-key project here would be “one and done,” but like many who get the hospitality bug, he found it intriguing.

“We’ve come to enjoy the business and come to learn about it. I actually live on the top floor of the hotel in a condominium-type apartment. We’ve found success—financial success—and we like the people that we’re doing business with,” he said.

The AAA Four-Diamond, pet-friendly boutique hotel is positioned at the upper-end, enjoying a rate $100 over “any other hotel in the community,” said Obie.

There are fireplaces, butler closets, flower-bedecked balconies, a variety of room and suite configurations and decor styles, event space for up to 80 guests, complimentary airport and four-mile-radius shuttle service via Mercedes vehicles, fitness facility, room service, complimentary bikes, snacks and welcome glasses of wine.

“We view our relationship with our guests as an engagement versus a transaction,” said the executive, noting every day on average 40% of people in the hotel have been there before.

“And that number is growing. Which is a nice way to wake up in the morning,” said Obie.

Obie’s foray into hospitality was the Inn at the 5th.

To keep that feeling going, the nascent hotelier last year opened Inn at 500 Capitol some 446 miles away in Boise. How he got there and to that particular site is as interesting as the property itself.

Obie connected with the business school at the University of Oregon, where he is a trustee emeritus, and got a class dedicated for a term to researching the Western United States to find areas of similar opportunity to the Eugene project. “Boise came up top of the list,” said Obie.

The company acquired the cleared parcel at 500 South Capitol Blvd. via a long-term (100-plus years) lease.

“It’s on one of the main roads and actually was a crossing for [early 1800s’ explorers]Lewis and Clark when they came through,” said Obie of the $29-million, 110-key hotel’s site, adding the location also is proximate several museums, the State Capitol building, Boise State University and downtown.

Obie considers the hotel property “special,” and part of its uniqueness lies in the fact there are 57 different themed rooms that use art and decor to create variety.

“For example, our fifth floor overlooks a small theater called Flicks. So we have five movie rooms, each with a different theme, some around old-time movie actors. Katharine Hepburn is one room. It’s been very successful for us and something, frankly, a brand could never touch. It’s too much work and too hard to keep up. It’s something we can offer that sets us apart,” he said. “We create a unique experience for our customers.”

Obie indicated he’s open to more opportunities in the Western U.S. HB

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