NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Memorial Day weekend is typically one of Newport’s busiest weekend of the year, when hundreds of tourists flock to the city to celebrate the unofficial start of summer.
That’s what makes the massive fire at the Wayfinder Hotel Monday night all the more devastating, according to Discover Newport CEO Evan Smith.
“This weekend, the property was sold out, and for weeks to come this property was sold out,” Smith said of the beloved hotel.
Smith said this fire is the biggest commercial fire that the city has seen since 1998, when the International Tennis Hall of Fame went up in flames.
“Memorial Day is the kickoff to the peak summer season,” Smith said. “Post COVID-19 pandemic, we were expecting a really strong season.”
The recently-renovated hotel is now just a shell of its former self, sustaining heavy fire, smoke and water damage to all four floors.
“It’s really hard … all of that effort went up in smoke,” Smith said.
The Wayfinder Hotel sits across the street from the old Newport Grand Casino on Admiral Kalbfus Road. The building previously housed the MainStay Hotel before it was purchased by Dovetail + Co. in January 2019.
Newport Mayor Jeanne Marie Napolitano described the loss of the Wayfinder as “heartbreaking.” She said the city will do whatever it can to help the Wayfinder and its employees through this difficult time.
Smith said the loss of the Wayfinder puts Newport at a disadvantage when it comes to tourism, especially on the weekends when the city is bustling with activity.
“Most of this business can be absorbed midweek, but the challenge will come on the weekends,” Smith explained. “Where can we find an additional 220 rooms?”
That question is running through the minds of many, including wedding planner Christine Ellingwood.
Ellingwood, owner of Planned to Perfection, said the majority of her clients are from out of state, and several were planning on staying at the Wayfinder in the coming weeks.
She tells 12 News she had to break the news to her clients Tuesday morning.
“They didn’t even know the fire had happened,” Ellingwood said.
In total, Ellingwood said five couples with dozens of guests have to be rebooked at other nearby hotels.
Smith said while Newport’s hospitality industry is extremely competitive, other hotels are reaching out “sincerely asking” how they can help the Wayfinder get back on its feet.
But through tragedy comes newfound strength.
Smith remains confident that the Wayfinder will bounce back.
“I’m very positive,” Smith said. “Like a phoenix, something better will arise.”