Route 66 News

What’s happening with El Garces?

El Garces in Needles, Calif., in summer 2009.

El Garces in Needles, Calif., in summer 2009.

While in the Route 66 town of Needles, Calif., this summer, it appeared there was little recent activity in the restoration of the historic El Garces Hotel. A sign said the century-old Harvey House would have a “limited” opening by winter 2008, and the hotel’s Web site hadn’t been updated since last year.

El Garces’ project manager is Allan Affeldt, owner of the marvelously restored La Posada in Winslow, Ariz. It seemed unlikely that Affeldt would bail on the project after previously going through the arduous (and successful) rehabilitation of another Harvey House. I called him to see what was going on.

In short, Affeldt has gone through “complicated” building rehab so far and recession-related financing hurdles with El Garces. But he plans on having the hotel up and running with guest rooms, public space and a restaurant by the end of 2010.

Affeldt said he spent three years and $3 million to shore up the structure so it would meet California’s earthquake building codes. “It was vastly more complicated than we anticipated,” he said.

He said the El Garces project is “stalled” as he renegotiates the building’s financing. He said the lending crunch that began about a year ago has slowed the project, but he anticipates an answer from financiers within 30 days or so. Instead of building 50 guest rooms as envisioned, the tight lending market may force him to downsize the project to 30 rooms for the time being.

“There may not be enough money to do this all at once,” Affeldt said. “But that’s something we’ve dealt with before. When we bought La Posada 12 years ago, we opened later that year with just five rooms. The situation was similar.

“We’re very stubborn,” he added. “As along as I’m doing it, (El Garces project) will keep going. We’ll figure out a way to get this done.”

La Posada in Winslow, Ariz.

La Posada in Winslow, Ariz.

And like La Posada, Affeldt says he’ll willing to keep making improvements to El Garces indefinitely. Although La Posada has been operating for more than a decade, the hotel is opening another 14 guest rooms next month, boosting its capacity by more than a third. Affeldt also made improvements to the complex’s luscious gardens, and he next wants to work on La Posada’s vast basement.

La Posada’s occupancy rate stands at an impressive 85 percent year-round, and is nearly booked up during the spring and summer. Affeldt’s success with La Posada is why he’s confident about El Garces.

“People were saying, ‘A first-class hotel in Winslow … it’ll never happen,'” he recalled. “The location (in Needles) is actually better than Winslow.”