For over fifteen years, Sgt. Preston’s Lodge has been one of the mainstay businesses of Skagway. From travelers in need of a place to stay during the Buckwheat Ski Classic, to the Christmas lights that are adorned across the buildings every holiday season, Sgt. Preston’s has been a place that residents and guests alike have come to know and appreciate.
Coming next summer though, Sgt. Preston’s will be changing ownership and changing purpose.
Chris and Teri Valentine, current owners of Sgt. Preston’s, are selling the hotel to Mike Healy, owner of the Skagway Brewing Company and the upcoming Mexi Co. and Smokehouse restaurants.
Healy had been looking for more housing for his employees, and with two new restaurants, has found the need even greater than before. Healy is expecting at least 90 seasonal employees for the coming year, compared to his previous 30.
“I have built 57 bedrooms in Skagway, all of which are used for employee housing during the summer months, but opened up for the greater community come winter time at an affordable rate,” Healy said.
Housing has been an issue for a long time in Skagway and it still remains one of the top issues in the Borough’s comprehensive plan, according to Healy.
Sgt. Preston’s has additionally been undergoing issues that have made it harder for the Valentine’s to keep up with the hotel.
“When we discovered this past fall that the foundation of one of our buildings was starting to show signs of deterioration, we were at first a little disheartened,” Teri Valentine said.
The Valentine’s looked over options for repair, including lifting the building on a new foundation and rebuilding, but all options were going to greatly increase their debt load.
“We’ve put a ton into this place. Every dime we had, we put back into the lodge,” Teri Valentine said.
This debt, combined with the lower amount of independent travelers coming to Skagway made selling Sgt. Preston’s an option that the Valentine’s had to consider.
“We just decided we didn’t want to take on the type of debt that was going to be needed, especially when the winters are getting quieter,” Teri Valentine said.
With the housing situation effecting Healy, Chris Valentine was able to pose the question whether Healy would be interested in purchasing Sgt. Preston’s.
“Mike said no, he had no interest in owning a lodge. Chris elaborated and said it doesn’t have to be a lodge. You could use it for housing, and this is how it all came about,” Teri Valentine said.
Even though Sgt. Preston’s will be mainly used for housing come summer, Healy plans on reopening the hotel, as soon as he’s able to build employee housing.
“We plan on leaving the hotel infrastructure in place so a portion of (Sgt. Preston’s) may be turned back into a smaller hotel at some point,” Healy said.
With the sale of Sgt. Preston’s, Skagway loses one of the hotels in town, but Healy said that Chris Valentine told him other parties interested in the lodge were also planning to use it for housing.
“That kind of solidified it for me. If it’s going to someone’s employee housing, let’s make it mine,” Healy said.
With the Buckwheat Ski Classic, Healy plans to keep the tradition of housing people for event until another hotel takes over handling the visitors.
After talking with Chris Valentine, Healy doesn’t plan on opening the hotel at other times during the winter, as Chris said there was an abundance of hotel rooms available during those months.
In addition, Teri Valentine hopes that with the sale of the hotel, it will help alleviate some of the financial stress that other hotels face in town, since independent visitors to Skagway utilizing the hotels have become less over the years.
Jim Sager of the Westmark Hotel sees both positive and negative aspects to Sgt. Preston’s becoming employee lodging. Sager noted he might see a modest increase in reservations coming in during the summer.
Sager pointed out that the extra housing will be will be useful for Healy as his business grows, but some may find it harder to visit Skagway during summertime events, like the Fourth of July.
“Finding rooms might be more challenging to friends to the north and south,” Sager said.
Cody Jennings, the tourism director at the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau, forsees the sale having an impact on future events occurring in town.
“That’s 38 hotel rooms (that won’t be usable), which is significant when you figure out that we just have about 200 beds in town, so that will be a significant hit to us for our independent traveler,” Jennings said.
During certain summer events, Jennings forsees that the decrease in hotels are going to be felt the most.
“I would venture a guess that we typically have quite a few of our Yukon neighbors down for Victoria Day, the third weekend in May. I think that’s when we’ll really start seeing those impacts,” Jennings said.
While the Valentine’s are saddened to give up Sgt. Preston’s, they feel that they’re handing over the reigns to someone who has the drive to make the repairs needed and manage the building efficiently.
“(Healy) is taking on a lot, think about it. How many people would have the moxie to add an additional load onto an already full plate?” Teri Valentine said.
Even with the upcoming conversion, Healy would prefer that he be able to house his employees in apartment complexes in the future.
“Hopefully, affordable land becomes available for us to build housing on soon,” Healy said.
Even with the repairs needed and the potential debt in getting it back into shape, the selling of Sgt. Preston’s isn’t something that the Valentine’s did lightly.
“Sometimes, life steps in and pushes you in a direction that wasn’t your first initial though, but in the end it’s for the best. We just didn’t have the heart to follow through with another 15-20 years,” Teri Valentine said.
Healy hopes that with taking over Sgt. Preston’s, he’s going to be able to better serve the community that he’s been a part of since 2003.
“As always, we aim to be community-minded first and foremost. We understand change can be a difficult thing to process, but we do feel as if we are still assisting to alleviate the housing crisis we are all aware of,” Healy said.
While Teri Valentine won’t have Sgt. Preston’s to decorate next year, that isn’t going to stop her from getting in the spirit.
“As for my love of Christmas, that’s not going to end anytime soon. I will always look for some way to share it and put smiles on faces,” She said.
The same goes for the decorations at Sgt. Preston’s. When Healy announced to his staff that he was going to buy the lodge, they wanted to make sure that the displays would stay up.
“I can’t walk down the street without someone asking me if we’re going to keep the Christmas displays. We are. That was actually a demand from my managers,” Healy said.