SARATOGA — Saratoga has a strong tourist economy that’s been supporting a diverse restaurant scene with places like Bella’s Bistro, the Snowy Mountain Brewery and the Hotel Wolf Restaurant.
But what it hasn’t had is a strong hotel scene to go along with its many tourist destinations. That has been changing of late, with several motels in the community recently completing renovations that have upped not only the number of available rooms, but the quality of stays.
Among these newly strong stays is the Riviera Motor Lodge, which is making the most of a riverfront location that’s within walking distance of Saratoga’s downtown. That includes the fabulous Italian spot Bella’s Bistro, which is just across the street from the motor lodge.
John Evans is part of the team that’s taken on the renovations of the Riviera Motor Lodge, taking it from tired to lively with an inside and out upcycle. (great sentence, nicely worded)
“A lot of our motivation was around doing something good for the town, something that we’d be proud of,” Evans told Cowboy State Daily. “My parents grew up there, and they actually owned a motel in the early ’70s.”
Evans also had a career in hospitality, first as an accountant, then as a partner in East West Hospitality, which was a property management firm for hotels and resort condominiums. That experience gave him lots of ideas to apply to the Riviera Motor Lodge.
Lots Of Green Carpet
Evans grew up in Saratoga and has a vivid memory of the Riviera back when it was a combination gas station and motel.
“It was a Sinclair station back in the day on the front part of the Main Street and on the back lot by the river,” Evans said. “And the Sinclair station and the motel were owned by a World War II vet by the name of Oakley Anderson. I have a vivid memory of him out there pumping gas. So, it was a full-service gas station.”
In something like the late ’80s or early ’90s, another 30 rooms were added onto the motel and the gas station was removed, shifting the focus to all motel.
“That’s probably the last time that any significant dollars were put into the place,” Evans said.
At the time Evans bought the place, the motel was tired and getting rundown. It had lots of deferred maintenance too. Think old showers and vintage green carpet.
All of which needed to just be torn out and tossed.
“Especially the older rooms from 1960,” Evans said. “I think those had a lot of original showers in them. So those took a lot of work, and the carpet was so old. And all the rooms needed paint.”
Lots and lots of paint.
Evans has been a longtime traveler with a 30-plus year career in hospitality. When he came back home to Wyoming, he could see immediately a lot of potential for the Riviera, especially with its riverfront location.
In fact, the riverfront area was one of the first things he transformed. Instead of a dirt and weed patch, he saw lush grass with fire pits and gas grills. Add in some benches, and suddenly it’s a lovely gathering space along the river framed by 100-plus-year-old cottonwoods.
Another of Evans’ ideas, which also came from his travels, was a gear garage with complimentary equipment to rent out for things like snowshoeing in the winter and biking in the summer, without making a big investment in gear.
But the ideas didn’t stop there. Evans also created a two-bedroom suite that can serve as a snowmobile chalet in the winter or a hiking group’s haven in the summer.
He also saw in the meeting room, which is ideally situated with the outdoor riverside space, a nice venue for events or even weddings.
Up above that space, meanwhile, are two balcony suites that overlook the river. They are larger rooms and have become popular as honeymoon suites. Sitting outside on the balcony, it’s easy to hear the river gurgling in the distance.
Renovating The Rooms Was The Hard Part
Work to renovate all the rooms took much longer than Evans expected and is still underway, even though it started right away.
“We ordered furniture two weeks after we closed,” he said. “I had hoped to get (the rooms) done by last summer, but by middle June, I realized that was not going to happen.”
Supply chain issues amid the COVID-19 pandemic and an ongoing statewide labor crunch were among the contributing factors there, Evans said.
“I was overly optimistic,” he said. “An example would be lighting. So, we had 15 rooms done the first year and then we finished the other 25 over the winter. But the lighting comes from overseas, and so that was more difficult to get timely.”
There are about 10 rooms with some renovation work left, Evans said.
Tile, carpet and paint are finished in those rooms, but they need new showers, which they will be getting this winter.
Augmenting The Community
It hasn’t taken long for travelers to realize that the Riviera is a brand new stay.
General Manager Kim Hytrek told Cowboy State Daily she’s seen a significant rise in the overall number of guests staying at the motel, as well as larger numbers who return to stay at the motel again.
Hytrek is looking to do community engagement events in the coming years. She envisions something like a Friday afternoon club — a kind of yard party — open to the public to enjoy a little good food and music by the riverfront.
She held the first such party this fall, which she called a fall fling. The whole point is simple — drink, be merry and enjoy the fall.
“We were looking to treat the community,” Hytrek said. “It’s been a busy summer and a lot of tourists have come through and interrupted their homes and the hot pools and the traffic. It’s tough on the locals, so we’d like to give back to the community as well.”
This kind of community-minded orientation is something that Evans is very focused on as well.
“I think we’d like to continue to contribute to the town’s success by being on boards and being a good member of the community,” Evans said. “One of the things we’re concerned about is workforce housing and how we could contribute to that, because it’s tough to get employees because there’s not enough housing.”
Evans is interested in creating a historic walking tour in Saratoga that would highlight some of its historic places and a little history of the town.
Evans is also glad to see other motels and hotels upgrading their rooms. It’s a rising tide he feels will help lift a lot of tourism boats in the community.
“The thing about Saratoga is that we have that beautiful community center that really is underutilized,” he said. “And part of the reason it’s been underutilized is because the lodging in town has been, you know, not very good. So, with everyone putting effort into renovating their properties, this really helps the community center as well.”
Wyoming’s Motel Revival
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.