Local art gives new River Inn a ‘sense of place’

Hotel’s owner says inn 'belongs' to community

By Katherine Lacaze | Seaside Signal

Mounted above the banks of the Necanicum River, the recently completed River Inn at Seaside has opened its doors to offer visitors a new place to sojourn as well as to discover a snapshot of local art.

A festive grand opening ribbon-cutting ceremony and an open house were held at the four-story hotel recently, although the inn began accepting guests on the Memorial Day weekend.

The hotel is designed as a place where “people will come and relax and not only sleep, but come and enjoy the hotel,” said Masudur Khan, the owner and managing director of the approximately $4.5 million River Inn at Seaside.

“So they leave not only happy, they leave with a memory,” he said.

Masudur Khan, managing director of the River Inn at Seaside

Masudur Khan, managing director of the River Inn at Seaside, cuts a ribbon in front of the hotel surrounded by family members during a grand opening ceremony. The hotel has been accepting guests since Memorial Day weekend. KATHERINE LACAZE PHOTO

In February 2013, Khan bought the property on Avenue A — which used to be the site of the Royale Motel — already armed with the idea of building a creation of his own. Khan’s company, Doel Hospitality, also owns the Inn at Seaside and the City Center Motel; both were acquired in the past five years.

The difference between acquiring hotels that already are operating and building a new one is that “you make your baby,” Khan said. For him, that meant endowing the new inn with his own vision and ideas cultivated over years of experience. His vision includes a heavy focus on the culture and community of the area.

A notable aspect of the hotel is its use of local artists to represent a sense of place, Denise Fairweather, founder of fairweather house & gallery, said at the opening ceremony.

Attendee to the grand opening of the River Inn at Seaside

An attendee to the grand opening of the River Inn at Seaside observes a photo on the third floor. Each floor displays the work of a different local artist. KATHERINE LACAZE PHOTO

“(Khan) embraced the idea of putting up art as a permanent collection for the visitors to view,” Fairweather said.

She represents several artists in the area and was charged with picking out a few who connected to the spirit of the River Inn.

“Each artist appointed understood the important role their art was to represent,” she said. “The plan was to introduce hotel guests to moments found, to memories that would be made and connecting to this special sense of place.”

On each floor, the artwork of various local artists is displayed.

“We wanted to create a gallery feeling,” said Kaarina Vera, the sales and marketing manager.

The first floor houses enlarged prints from the Seaside Historical Society Museum that depict black-and-white scenes of days gone by in Seaside, as well as a piece featuring the Necanicum Bridge painted by Penelope Culbertson specifically for the reception desk area.

Paul Brent, whose work represents coastal lifestyle, is featured on the second floor. Using a variety of mediums, from watercolors to oil paint, Brent highlights iconic local scenes viewed near his two places of residence: Seaside and Panama City, Fla.

“As an artist, I like to explore the visual aspect of my environment,” he said in an interview. “Someone who is a musician might want to be inspired by sounds of the ocean. On a visual level, I incorporate things I see into my paintings.”

Brent especially is interested in nature, including shells, birds and fish. However, he also includes other quintessential coastal symbols into his paintings, such as beachballs, kites, cottages and a lifeguard stand.

Including art of local residents at a business is a positive response to the surrounding environment, said Brent, who has owned his home in Seaside about 10 years.

“I think that it brings a whole experience of visiting a place — it makes it more special and unique,” he said.

Seaside natives and photographers Neal Maine and his grandson, Michael Wing, were to become “the foundation of the art project,” Fairweather said. Their work is hanging on the walls of the third floor. Maine, who attended the opening ceremony, is a co-founder of the North Coast Land Conservancy.

“(Maine) focuses his imagery on wildlife in the context of its habitat; (Wing’s) specialty is capturing action images,” according to a placard on the third floor.

Maine chose images that depict habitats and wildlife along the coastal edge to be put up at the hotel, Fairweather said.

Victoria Brooks’ paintings are exhibited on the fourth floor.

“She captures the essence of sun-drenched images in a vibrant, impressionistic style,” according to the informational placard on the fourth floor. The placard describes her work as characterized by “intimate moments set in richly conceived landscapes and seascapes.”

“The result is a hauntingly personal connection with the viewer that resonates at the deepest emotional level,” the placard states.

Proceeds from the sale of the art were donated to the North Coast Land Conservancy.

The hotel also will feature a local “artist of the month,” whose work will be put on display in the lobby. An “art walk” in August titled “Belonging” will feature Maine, Brent, Culbertson and Brooks.

“We love Seaside,” Khan said. “This is the place that we are building the hotel. ... So it kinds of belongs to Seaside. ... It belongs to the local community.”

The key to his vision for the inn was not just focusing on one market or one demographic, he said.

“It’s focusing more like internationally, like everybody,” he said. “You can see a little bit contemporary, a little bit traditional, a little bit modern, a little bit younger, a little bit older — everything is there.”

The River Inn at Seaside, which Khan described as “part of our extension of the Inn at Seaside” concept, is about one block from downtown and two blocks from the beach.

Khan said he could have extended the hotel so it was closer to the Necanicum River and larger with more rooms, but he wanted instead to keep a substantial cushion to give people room to come “and enjoy the river.”

Vera said the setting is “peaceful and it’s fun and it’s relaxing. It’s just kind of fun to watch the kayakers, the paddleboats.”

The hotel itself includes 48 guest rooms; a conference center, aptly named the Necanicum room; an indoor heated saltwater pool; and a homey lobby with a spot for guests to eat their breakfast. Eventually, the hotel will have a complimentary bike system, so guests can wheel around and explore the city at no cost.

Khan currently has no plans for further expansions or more hotel acquisitions.

“I just want to see how it goes and how everybody works together,” he said. “That’s my next plan: To make the three hotels successful.”

River Inn

The view from a fourth-floor room at the River Inn at Seaside includes the winding Necanicum River, to which the hotel owes its name. The river is a central feature of the new inn, along with an emphasis on community through the display of local art. KATHERINE LACAZE PHOTO