Obie won

0412_Profile_BrianObie_01Overcoming obstacles, Brian Obie finally opens his Eugene hotel.

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Brian Obie, owner of the Inn at the 5th, enjoys his new role after a varied business and political career.
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina

There’s a new hotel in Eugene, but the fact that Brian Obie’s Inn at the 5th is the town’s first new hotel in 30 years is not the real story. What is remarkable is that Obie managed to pull off this downtown development in the first place. His 70-room boutique hotel, which opened in late February, is considered a minor miracle in the hotel industry.

During the construction deep freeze of 2010-11, Obie, a longtime local businessman and former mayor, lined up investors and lenders for his dream project. In that same period, no more than half a dozen new hotel projects in the entire nation got the green light, according to Stephen Ledoux, a hotel industry specialist with Davis Wright Tremaine, the law firm that assisted Obie with the project’s financing.

“You want to talk about an uphill battle,” says Ledoux. “There was nothing easy about this any step of the way. But this happened by force of the will of Brian Obie.”

Obie has been one of the owners of Eugene’s Fifth Street Public Market for 30 years. It was during a stay at Inn at the Market, Seattle’s popular boutique hotel near Pike Place Market, that Obie got the inspiration for his own market inn.



Eugene’s first boutique hotel, which has 70 rooms, offers a touch of class, Oregon style, with original art from local artists in every room. That the hotel opened at all is considered a minor miracle in the hotel industry.
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina

“It was easy to make that connection,” he says. And from that point on he began learning about the hotel business, making notes about his likes and dislikes, and creating a vision for his own hotel that he was confident would someday become a reality.

“If you dig deep into any story of success,” says Obie, “you’ll find it’s born out of commitment to some vision or thought or belief.”

The 70-year-old Obie followed his father, Gordon Obie, into his transit and outdoor advertising business, Obie Media, in 1962. After other pursuits, including ownership of Monaco Coach (then Caribou Manufacturing) from 1974 to 1987, and a term as Eugene’s mayor from 1985 through 1988, Obie took the company public in 1996. Lamar Advertising acquired Obie Media in 2004, but he is still president and CEO of Obie Industries, which handles real estate development.

His reputation as an honest and adept businessman served him well when shortly after the 2009 collapse of Lehman Brothers and the continuing financial meltdown, Obie began looking for backers for his hotel.



// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina

“The credit freeze was worse than I’d ever seen before,” says Ledoux. “All we could do was just do our best to influence bankers. There was a lot of explaining things to people who were holding on to their chairs with white knuckles waiting for the end of the world to come.

“But for Brian it wasn’t a question of whether. It was when and how.”

Obie’s skills as a salesman came into play and people began buying into his vision. Even the Eugene Hilton, a potential competitor, wrote a letter of support.

Typical of Obie’s unbeatable optimism, he saw advantages in the economy’s nosedive. A few market tenants were unable to renew their leases. Nike relocated and left a large corner space empty. In Obie’s mind the newly available space translated as a fortuitous adjustment to his dream. Now the hotel would actually be a part of the market rather than a separate building.

“We were able to create the space that would allow this to happen,” says Obie, who demonstrated his thanks to his community by using almost all Eugene-area businesses for the construction, design and art on the walls. Reservations already are pouring in, especially for June’s Olympic trials for track and field.



// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina

Obie also has been meeting with officials from the University of Oregon and cultural institutions such as the symphony, opera, ballet and visual arts organizations. “If we can help those people grow, then that’s helpful to us,” he says.

Market tenants such as the top-rated Marché Restaurant, the Gervais Salon & Day Spa and LaVelle Vineyards Tasting Room are getting new business from hotel guests, while Travel Lane County anticipates a big boost to annual visitor revenues, currently at about $536 million.

Obie designed certain special touches for his hotel such as the compartment where room service orders can be delivered without bothering guests (a light turns on to indicate that the order sits behind the compartment door). He likes wearing a new hat, that of an innkeeper.

“With whatever skills and energy I have,” Obie says, “I want to continue to make a contribution and do exciting things, enjoy people and continue to help build this community.”