NEWPORT, R.I. — Over the course of a few hours, a persistent blaze could be seen for miles coming from The Wayfinder Hotel Monday night, demolishing an up-and-coming hot spot for summer travelers, coastal foodies, and pool-side partiers.
The Wayfinder Hotel, which was previously the Mainstay Hotel & Conference Center, was purchased in 2019 by Dovetail + Co., a hotel owner and development company, for $14.34 million. It was the company’s first real estate investment, but the group invested another $16 million into its renovations, transforming the space from outdated into an Instagramable boutique hotel for the young traveler on a budget. The hotel reopened just shy of two years ago over July 4 weekend in 2020.
Despite the pandemic’s challenges to the tourism industry, The Wayfinder’s colorful accommodations for less than $200 a night — as opposed to the flashy, pricey hotels that scatter Aquidneck Island — was an easy sell for tourism departments targeting leisure and business travelers for an overnight stay. Pair it with the hotel’s Nomi Park, a restaurant with retro vibes and coastal flair.
This summer they planned poolside yoga on Saturday mornings, a daily-changing cocktail menu at the property’s Poolshack, and regular displays by local artists.
Yet that came crashing down when a four-alarm fire broke out Monday night, sending crews from six different communities to control the blaze. All hotel staff and guests remained safe, but three firefighters were injured. Paint coats of sea urchin green, powder blue, and off-white on the hotel’s exterior have darkened, are chipping, and a swirl of smoke is enveloping the property. There are holes in the side of the building and on the roof. Bits and shingles are falling down.
.@skydrone12 capturing the aftermath of last night’s devastating fire at the Wayfinder hotel in Newport.— Shannon Hegy (@ShannonHegy) May 24, 2022
Starting live at 5 - the impact on Newport’s busy tourism season, brides, and what we’re learning about the investigation @wpri12 pic.twitter.com/DH9CnoOTKg
It’s unclear what happens now. Cass Lovett, a spokeswoman for the Dovetail, said the owners are still in the process of working out next steps.
“The loss feels devastating but the resilience of our team and outpouring of support from our local community and loyal guests cannot be understated,” Phil Hospod, CEO and founder of Dovetail, said in a statement to the Globe. “We have fallen in love with Newport and look forward to returning as a valued contributor to the community in due course.”
On Tuesday, as ladder truck crews from the Newport Fire Department kept water streaming into the top floor windows to prevent another fire from starting, Evan Smith, the CEO of Discover Newport, said, “The Wayfinder Hotel offered guests a transformative boutique hotel experience with an affordable edge.”
Newport Fire said sprinklers and alarms worked properly, yet part of the building is a total loss. Part of the roof collapsed. Windows of dozens of hotel rooms have been boarded up. What caused the fire is still under investigation.
The 197 rooms and 30 suites at the Wayfinder are just a handful of the more than 4,000 rooms across the nine neighboring coastal communities that Discover Newport also markets, which includes Barrington, Bristol, Jamestown, Little Compton, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, and Warren.
“While we are saddened by this loss for our tourism community, we will strive to make a gallant effort to ensure travelers find a variety of accommodations in the area as we head into the summer season,” said Smith.
Yet, The Wayfinder was one of the most affordable and accessible locations.
Rates started at $120 a night, compared to the historic Hotel Viking, where a guest room with a queen-size bed starts at $540 per night during the week by mid-June. Or the picturesque Castle Hill Inn, set in a 19th-century mansion and where suites boast a 360-degree panoramic view of Narragansett Bay, can run up to $2,095 for a single night by mid-June. Many of Newport’s hotels require a two-night minimum stay.
Of course, these hotels are marketed to different travelers or specific trip budgets, yet, Wayfinder had found its place in Newport where accommodations can be inexpensive but still chic. It’s proximity to the neighboring Naval War College, or even Salve Regina University up the road, made it a viable option for families to book overnight stays for their students’ graduations.
A spokeswoman did not respond to questions related to how many would-be visitors will have to receive a refund.
The Mission, a hamburger joint whose owners helped Nomi Park open in 2020, posted on Instagram Tuesday, “We know first hand the time and energy that went into this project, not only at [The Wayfinder Hotel], but [Nomi Park] as well.”
“Every inch of that place was meticulously designed with so much thought and care for who the artist was, and what the customer would want,” read the post.
Prior to Monday night, in the lobby of the hotel, there was a flag that read, “Don’t give up the ship.” But on the eve of a holiday weekend, it’s not yet clear when the Wayfinder — a hotel that has only ever known business during a global pandemic — might make its return.