Friday, February 26, 2010

Cottage Grove struggles to save charming resort

2/24/10 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The headlines of the Sentinel on Feb. 10 were ominous: “Village Green close to being sold.” “Prospective buyer reportedly wants to convert hotel to truck stop.” Shock waves reverberated through the town. One of Cottage Grove’s finest businesses was going to be destroyed for a parking lot? How could that be?

Weeks later the Village Green Resort’s possible demise continues to dominate conversations. People sadly shake their heads as they contemplate the death knell for our town’s once 5-star crown jewel. Truck stops may be necessary but we don’t want one at the expense of a charming place to have dinner and entertain guests on birthdays, weddings and anniversaries.

Yes, I said ‘charming.’ If I had to define Cottage Grove with one word it would be charming. After 21 years I am still thrilled to live in this delightful and quirky town. It holds a magic spell over my heart. It captivates and fascinates me. And I am not alone.

My husband and I first pulled onto Main St. one August afternoon in 1987. We had just driven over from Crater Lake in our non-air-conditioned RV. It was hot and sticky. We needed new motorcycle boots. Mike Thies at Self-Selecto Shoes helped us find just the right fit and then asked where we were spending the night.

As usual, we were touring by the seat of our pants and didn’t have a clue where the campgrounds were located. Mike suggested that we head out to Pine Meadows at Cottage Grove Lake where it would be cool and pleasant. But first we needed some camping supplies and he recommended that we stop at BiMart.

At BiMart we were pleasantly surprised when we asked an employee where we could find the needed gear and he said, “Follow me.” He actually took us to the aisle where the items could be found and then asked if there was anything else he could do. Wow. An employee with manners. We were impressed.

The charm of Cottage Grove had begun to work it’s magic. Friendly, helpful people were just the first part of the equation. We were charmed by the old hospital located in historic downtown. On Main St., the quaint Hot Spot Café, the elegant Ben Franklin Bank and Elsie’s Dress Shop were well — ‘charming.’ After weeks on the road, Tilly’s Top Hat Pies (next to the old post office) became habit forming.

Too soon we had to return home but we came back the following year to check out CG in all four seasons. We enjoyed our first blooming rhododendrons; rode the Blue Goose steam train; enjoyed the small town fair atmosphere of the W.O.E; went underground and toured the dam at Cottage Grove Lake; and munched wild apples as we toured the area on our little Honda. We even adopted our first dachshund puppy from a litter that a lady brought to the campground.

You might say that we were hooked. And when it was too cold to camp, we stayed at the Village Green Resort. It was a charming, first class resort at affordable prices where it felt like home.

The rooms were comfortable but not overdone and a chocolate kiss was always on your pillow at bedtime. With a generous overhang, you didn’t have to stand in the rain to open your door. Waitresses at The Copper Rooster knew us by name and we got to know the community just by visiting with other diners. Sunday brunch featured ice carvings and a delectable buffet. We later learned that ladies were escorted to dinner by a maitre ‘d who placed a pillow under their feet!

Almost every town has a favorite landmark restaurant or hotel. One nice enough to bring visiting guests to experience. An upscale destination for when you want more than fast food. Of course, not all of them have 5-star ratings or a Cascadia Dining Room like the Village Green did. And that’s what has us worried.

The founding Woodard family who built and managed the resort sold it in the early1990s and it subsequently fell on hard times. A couple of sets of new owners didn’t have the same vision or standards as the Woodards. The antiques disappeared. Then the Cascadia and the Copper Rooster restaurants closed. The rooms became musty and bathrooms moldy. Word got out through the traveler grapevine not to stay there.

Hope surfaced in 2001 when Moonstone Hotel Properties purchased the resort and began a massive remodeling. Their primary vision seemed to be the building of a world-class garden with the hotel as an accessory. But gardens don’t pay bills. So while the plants flourished, only 24 of the guest rooms were refurbished, leaving 63 rooms un-habitable by resort standards.

Now the owner’s money is gone and the resort has one offer on the table — for a truck stop. Selling it would solve his problem but not ours. Once demolition takes place, we can’t go back. And even if the new owners put in a world-class truck stop, most of us will be disappointed.

Our dilemma is that we residents don’t have any power. We don’t own the resort or owe the money. Our influence is limited by the size of our wallets. Letters to the editor are great but they didn’t save the carousel. They certainly didn’t save the Blue Goose from moving to Yreka and they won’t save the resort.

Is there anyone who can step up and keep our charming Village Green open? As of this writing there’s lots of buyer speculation but no answers. Perhaps a coalition of businessmen? It happens all the time. The city of Cottage Grove? It bought a golf course. “The Little Engine that Could?” It built a hospital. Can any of them save a charming resort? Only time will tell.

Betty Kaiser's Chatterbox is about people, places, family and other matters of the heart.
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