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We Build Alaska

New owners of the Driftwood in Juneau have transformed a charming hotel into a nightmare

I have stayed at the Driftwood Hotel in Juneau since 2019 – the first year I went down to Juneau to report on the legislative session. The hotel itself is a little run down, but the rates for session were reasonable, it’s close to the Capitol, and the staff and now-former manager Chuck Collins were awesome.

Everyone knew I stayed at the Driftwood. I often told stories about some of the wild scenes I witnessed over the years. It became kind of a running joke among legislative folks that I stayed there. But the hotel had character and the staff were great. Friends who were going to Juneau often called and asked me where to stay. I always told them to stay at the Driftwood.

When I heard earlier this year the hotel was being bought by the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, I was naturally curious if things would change or stay the same. Unfortunately, they changed, and for the worse. It actually became something of a nightmare for many long-term guests.

I’m not the only person who has stayed at the Driftwood during session. For decades, dozens of legislators and staff called the Driftwood home during Alaska’s legislative session. Hotels in Juneau can basically do nothing and make money in the summer. But business is more challenging during the other parts of the year. The legislative business helped keep the doors open in the off season, former manager Chuck Collins told me.

Tlingit & Haida either didn’t get that information, have other plans, or don’t care. They took over ownership in late February from Myron Klein, the former owner who purchased it in 2013. It did not take long for things to devolve.

The annual Folk Fest is a big event in Juneau. This year’s Folk Fest was the first time it was held in-person since 2019 due to Covid. The Driftwood has long been a popular hangout for people who come to Juneau for the event. When I stayed there in 2019, loud music played from a few rooms well into Saturday and Sunday morning. It was annoying but no one seemed to really mind because it was the weekend. Not this year.

Folk Fest was held this year from April 10-16. Music was played every night in several rooms. But it was on another level the night of Sunday, April 17. Two rooms, one on the first floor not far from my room and another above my room, were packed full of people playing loud music, drinking, and smoking pot. I had to be up early and hoped it would stop by 1 am. By 2 am it was even louder, and there were dozens of people partying in the parking lot as well. I tried calling the front desk multiple times but no one ever answered.

I then went and politely asked if they could keep it down as I had to be up early. I was basically ignored except by one guy who asked me if I had earplugs and then said, “Fuck bro, we are just trying to jam.” The music finally stopped around 5 am.

The next day I called Chuck Collins, the long time manager to tell him about it. This is when I learned that he was not retained after the purchase by Tlingit & Haida. He gave me the contact information for Sherry Aitken, the person at Tlingit & Haida who is now overseeing the hotel. I called to tell her about what happened the previous night. All I wanted was some assurance that this would not be allowed to happen next year. She listened but seemed rather annoyed about the call.

Not long after, I learned that Tom Wright had been kicked out of the hotel by management during Folk Fest. Tom Wright, a long time legislative staffer, has stayed at the Driftwood for the last 15 years. Wright – like myself and others who come down for session – made it clear when he made his reservation in he was staying through mid-May – when session normally ends. This is something former manager Chuck Collins always understood for legislative guests. Wright was told his contract expired on April 9 and that he had to leave. Wright told them he never signed a contract and clearly wanted to stay through mid-May. They didn’t care. He had to go. Wright ended up having to move to another hotel, which cost more than two times what he was paying at the Driftwood. Wright told me he will never stay at the Driftwood again.

I started asking other legislative guests if they were having problems too. Everyone had a story. The last several years the rate for session was roughly $1,240 per month. This year the rate went up to roughly $1,500 per month, which makes sense due to inflationary pressures. But by mid-session, you were lucky if housekeeping came by once a week. Most people started taking out their own trash.

Representative Ashley Carrick (D – Fairbanks) was told by staff in mid-April her reservation was ending several days before the 121-day constitutional session limit in mid-May. She told them she had to be there at least until then and made that clear when she made her reservation. When she tried to extend three days until the end of session, they told her it would cost her nearly $900. Carrick ended up checking out and staying in her office the last few nights before going home. Carrick also said she won’t be staying there again.

Another staffer, Joe Hayes, who has stayed there the last eight years had an even worse experience. When he checked in he was told his reservation was only good until April 14. He explained he made the reservation through May 31, just like he had done the last seven years. He assumed the matter was settled. But on May 13 his door key stopped working. When he went to the front desk to get the key fixed he was told he could stay but needed to start paying the summer rate of nearly $300 per night. He emailed management and laid out the whole situation. It took them two days to respond. In her response, Sherry Aitken from Tlingit & Haida not only said they would not honor his reservation, she accused him of trying to bully their staff. She also made a bizarre and cryptic statement at the end, “we reserve the right to address this matter further if the need should arise.” He had to be out in two hours. Hayes told me he won’t be staying there again.

Here is an excerpt from the email from Aitken to Hayes:

We are truly sorry that you are feeling distressed. We have applied a 10% discount to your additional days and completely understand if at this time you can no longer remain at the Driftwood. As a gesture of our good will we have waived any late check-out fees or automatic charges for today’s room use. Of course, you are welcome to stay tonight if you should choose at our rack rate -10% courtesy discount

I have taken the liberty of adding notes in red to your original text for further clarification.

Please note that we find it highly unusual that you have chosen to conduct this personal matter from your official Alaska legislative email and to copy elected officials on a private business transaction. Some might view that as an attempt to use your legislative position as a privilege to bully our staff. I sincerely hope that is not the case as you are engaged to be facilitating work on the Alaskan peoples’ serious business.

Also note that we reserve the right to address this matter further if the need should arise.

Two other staffers, who are married, were told the same story by management about their reservation. They had nowhere else to go and had to pay $2,200 to extend for ten days. Another staffer was told by the front desk she could extend for six days at the session rate, but when she went to pay they told her she owed $1,500 and had to pay a late checkout fee. She also told me that there was a water leak in her bathroom right above the toilet that was never fixed. When using the bathroom, she had to put a towel over her head to avoid piping hot water leaking from a pipe directly above the toilet.

I also tried extending two nights as my reservation ended on May 16. In the past, Chuck Collins was always fair and accommodating in situations like this. I was quoted nearly $600 for the two night extension, which included a 10% discount. And it’s not like the hotel was completely full. There were plenty of empty rooms. I tried contacting Sherry Aitken to see if I could get a better deal than $600 for the extra two nights. It took nearly a week for her to get back to me. I explained I had been a guest for the last five years and Chuck was always fair in situations like this. She told me that he was no longer there and these are now the rates. I checked out and stayed at a friend’s house for the next few nights before going back to Anchorage. I will never stay there again.

On May 18, after session ended, I got a call from ADN reporter Iris Samuels around 6:30 pm asking if I knew anyone at the Driftwood she could call. She was headed to the airport and needed her bag. She checked out earlier that day and left her bag at the front desk, but the door was locked and no one was answering the door or the phone. I told her in the past I could call Chuck Collins, who was always available. Later, she told me after repeatedly knocking on the door someone eventually came out.

At the end of session I posted a tweet from the Landmine asking if anyone else had similar nightmare stories about the Driftwood for a story I was working on. The next morning I got an email form the comms person at Tlingit & Haida. In the email she told me, “President Richard Peterson and Tlingit & Haida’s Chief Development Officer Will Ware would like to meet with you to discuss a piece you’re working on about the issues at the Driftwood Lodge.” I told her I would meet with them but I was very upset how I and others had been treated.

I was told they would call at 2 pm. I did not get a call until almost ten minutes after 2 pm. But it was not President Peterson. It was the comms person. She told me there was a mix-up and that I needed to call President Peterson. I thought that was pretty strange but I took his number and called him. When he answered I identified myself. He told me he needed to call me back. Seems par for the course for how the Driftwood is now run.

He called me back and we spoke for about 20 minutes. Will Ware was not on the call. While he was aware of two of the guest issues (Wright and Hayes), it was clear he was not aware of the extent of just how badly people had been treated. I explained that I had stayed there the last five years and even got an extra room for part of this year (for Landmine reporter Jacob Hersh). He seemed mildly sympathetic and said they would work to improve things. But I did not get any real sense of urgency or concern from him. It’s unfortunate this is the how the Driftwood is now run. I used to look forward to staying there for session.

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Robin
1 year ago

That is unfortunate as many legislators and staff have been staying there for years. It was a great symbiotic relationship for the hotel during session. Speaker Phillips stayed there her entire time in the legislature and would always praise their the service. It is sad to see and hear such bad review after decades of great service there.

Tim H
1 year ago

Did you get any of these people’s permission to talk about their situations? Additionally, this is not the first housing nightmare legislative staff have been thru. You are just highlighting what bothers you or “legislative rock stars” you want to get “in” with.

Karl
1 year ago

Should’ve moved the capitol. Juneau hate the legislature.

Cristina
1 year ago
Reply to  Karl

Not true. Juneau does not hate the legislature and neither does this lifelong Juneauite.

Devon
1 year ago
Reply to  Karl

Speak for yourself and yourself only.

gene
1 year ago
Reply to  Karl

Karl You need to leave Juneau if you even live here. Maybe Anchorage, yet Alaska is to good for you. You should just leave the State and never look back.

Laurel⁸ W
1 year ago
Reply to  Karl

Juneau doesn’t hate the legislature. I’ve been here since 1962 and am thankful the capitol is in Juneau.

BikeRider
1 year ago
Reply to  Karl

Juneau doesn’t hate the legislature. I love meeting and greeting them every year, it doesn’t matter what party they are affiliated with or not. I will leave it to others who have first hand experience to comment on the running of the hotel.

Tina M
1 year ago

Sorry to hear about this. I stayed at the Driftwood once, for a few days. It was pretty… rustic. But I do recall the staff being friendly and it having a certain fun vibe to it. As well as great location. Hopefully the new management can figure things out and fix the problems.

Some guy
1 year ago
Reply to  Tina M

Sounds like the problem is management

Jon
1 year ago

You don’t think that it’s weird to copy elected officials on an email about how the hotel is being run? I would think you of all people would rush to condemn that behavior, loose as it is. Pretty funny though that your tweet attempting to dredge up dirt for this “story” fell flat. Keep us updated on how this boycott of yours goes, and how much you end up paying! I hope it’s a lot.

Buddy
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

You sound pleasant. The story gives no information on who was copied or for what purpose so your assumption is just as dubious. Housing during session is not a fully “personal” matter. The ability to acquire and maintain housing for legislative session is an employment matter and bringing one’s boss (legislator) into the conversation is appropriate, particularly when someone may feel like they are being treated unfairly.

AnnaLisa Cox
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

Jon, It was not at all weird to copy elected officials when they are staying there because they are in session. This was a person that was staying there, using their per diem stipend provided by the state of Alaska to cover hotel expenses… if the rates to stay in Juneau inflate exorbitant amounts then the state will need to look at changing the per diem rates paid to legislative employees that are coming in from out of town.

Dawn Wehe
1 year ago
Reply to  Jon

Why is it weird to copy your boss’s?

Tim Horton
1 year ago

Jeff accidently posted this on his blog instead of his yelp account.

floridawoman
1 year ago
Reply to  Tim Horton

I went to a music festival and people were drinking and playing music. If anyone has had this experience please contact me.

Wrangler
1 year ago

Not sure that I would’ve ever called the Driftwood Lodge charming after I spent a week living there between apartments a few years back. But it was affordable, convenient, and reasonably well run. Sorry to hear that it’s not that way any longer after Tlingit and Haida took it over. Sadly, as long as Peterson — who seems completely toxic, recall his recent “kick them in the throat” comments to a reporter — is in charge, it seems that management of the hotel and the tribe is likely to get worse, not better. Here’s to hoping that the state prevails… Read more »

Scott McMurren
1 year ago

Wow. I’ve stayed at the the Driftwood a bunch of times on trips to Juneau. Always great. This story is distressing.

Glenn Miller
1 year ago

My wife and I have stayed at the Driftwood a few times for a few days at a time and always enjoyed the low pricing and the shuttle pick up and delivery to the Alaska Marine Ferry Dock 13 miles away. The location was good too. Judging by your accounts, it sounds like we wouldn’t be staying there again unless and I hope, things get sorted out and improve greatly.

lana
1 year ago

As terrible as this is, you can find another hotel. The way the state is being run into the ground is a much bigger story. We have very little oil revenue even after record oil prices, the permanent fund is being drained at 5% per year when it is only bringing in 3% returns. This state is being mismanaged much worse than this hotel and there is no other state government we can go to.

Y. LeCornu
1 year ago
Reply to  lana

Yes Lana! Find another place if ya dont like that place its freedom of choice. The writer of this story is a joke! If you work for legislation then ya got money to stay wherever ya want. This writer using his white privilege to bash a native owned business before it even gets started. Just all sorts of privilege in this story. Hope they fix you guys! You white folks could always go back where ya came from!

Joseph Geldhof
1 year ago
Reply to  Y. LeCornu

I’m fairly certain good service or poor service is the issue here, nor racial identity.

Jerod
1 year ago
Reply to  Y. LeCornu

First off if you actually read the story he does not work for the legislature, he works for a news outlet. And it is horrible to bash on white people when he clearly was not bashing natives he has a first amendment right to tell his story and if you don’t like it then don’t read it.

Squid Lipps
6 months ago
Reply to  Y. LeCornu

RACIST MUCH!?!?!?!

Gregg
1 year ago

About $300 a night is the current summer rate? Good lord, so much for an affordable option in JNU. That’s a joke for these accommodations.

Sounds like there should be a big sign posted somewhere on the building. “Now under new mismanagment”. Their customer service clearly stinks!

Genevieve Marvin
1 year ago

Very unprofessional done by T&H sounds like to me

Ruby Smith
1 year ago

Very discusting way to treat your tenants. Very bad and degrading to our Culture. New management needed all around.

Suki
1 year ago

How does this compare to other hotels in Juneau? Do their rates go up after a certain date?

Richelle
1 year ago
Reply to  Suki

Yes, peak is usually mid may to Sept 15th. The highest would be June thru August. Standard for all of Alaska.

Suki
1 year ago
Reply to  Richelle

It seems like he is complaining that this hotel is now doing what every other hotel in Juneau/Alaska does. This is “America,” when demand goes up, so do prices? It sounds like it would be more appropriate to advocate for a publicly funded option to ensure constituents and government workers can afford to represent/work in the city.

kgabby
1 month ago
Reply to  Suki

I think the difference here, is that they weren’t warned and they were already ‘in residence’ as it were, or under contract. So to change it as drastically as T & H was doing (while arguably appropriate in terms of the economics of it), was just bad form, poor customer service, and maybe breach of whatever existing contract was in place at the time. You don’t advertise at one price, and enter into an agreement for a period of time, and then provide a different price or service after everyone is settled and has signed on the dotted line. That’s… Read more »

Chip Bildeberg
1 year ago

So sad. Ccthia leadership is a toxic cabal. I feel for their members – Peterson’s woke ideology mixed with an enormous influx of US taxpayer dollars has allowed him to play house on a much larger scale than he is qualified to take on. Each venture they undertake has failed miserably – they should focus more on lifting up their membership, than spending millions on acquisitions and legal fights with the State of Alaska. So very sad.

Ken Burch
1 year ago
Reply to  Chip Bildeberg

There is no such thing as “woke ideology” and you clearly only made that post because you wanted to work in the GOP Phrase-Of-The-Day. “…Sad!…”

Justin
1 year ago

This is normal for how Juneau treats visitors from other parts of Alaska. The only way to be treated with civility in Juneau is to be a legislator or a tourist from out of state.

Pat
1 year ago
Reply to  Justin

This is the way Alaskans are treated all over the state in the summer. I cannot afford to travel to Anchorage or Fairbanks in the summer due to outrageous hotel rates that cater only to the rich tourists and care less what normal, working Alaskans can afford. I sympathize but just because the legislators have clout is the only reason this story is surfacing. Those of us regular Alaskans have no soap box to stand on.

Anon
1 year ago

This is wonderful. I hope they raise the prices even more and price them out of being able to stay in Juneau. Props to the new owners. Be a great thing for Alaska to move the capitol to the mainland such as Wasilla, Palmer, or Anchorage. Probably wouldn’t have these issues and having to hear them cry about the costs. The majority would just be a short drive or ride away from where they would need to be.

Kris
1 year ago
Reply to  Anon

Oh God, no. Don’t move the Capitol here. Please leave it there. Thank you. Too much hustle and bustle here as it is.

Ken Burch
1 year ago
Reply to  Anon

There would be heavy price-gouging in Wasilla, Palmer or Anchorage, too. It happens everywhere in Alaska in the summer and it happens in every capitol city anywhere. It’s just that if it wee in Wasilla, Palmer or Anchorage it would be white people with your right-wing politics doing the price-gouging for awhile…at least until the new capitol city, as would inevitably happen, became just as “liberal” as you think Juneau is.

Kristina S
1 year ago

Wow…
I think T&H brings a lot of good to the community of Juneau!

Kristina S
1 year ago

Read the response on the Tlingit and Haida Facebook page or the webpage…

Javin Lindoff
1 year ago

Without reading Tlingit and Haida President full comment, I already felt this article written about Driftwood was TRASH. Yes do hotels have issues? Especially Driftwood, former employee here, former customer too but no, this article is trash! I can tell you stories about how awful Legislation wasn’t greatest guests to clean up from! Treat workers as less than.

Margaret
1 year ago

The new owners can run the hotel as they wish. That’s why they paid for it. You, legislators, staffers, lobbyists and bloggers think that you are “entitled” when you come to Juneau! You are not!

Jodi Olmstead
1 year ago

….where’s the apt. being built for legislators by Juneau Peep’s…so they wouldn’t leave?

Nancy D Keen
1 year ago

As I read the comments, it becomes glaringly apparent that there is some sort of deflection going on here. This reeks of distraction and diversion from the really important issues facing us all. Keep your eyes and ears open. I’m sure there’s some shifty business happening right up the hill..

Andy Evans
1 year ago

I staffed in Juneau 2017-18 and stayed ar the Driftwood because I was told it was cheap. It was. It was also a dump. Room was filthy and nothing in it worked. Drunken guests all over the place, regularly vomiting over the handrails. The parking lot was an obvious drug buy location nightly. Check in desk staff was rude. After I caught some scumbag trying to break into cars in the parking lot I checked out early. They demanded I pay for the remaining time of my reservation. I refused and had to block the charge to my credit card.… Read more »

Peter
1 year ago

Sounds like you’re being – bit of a wet blanket – the Driftwood probably cares more about filling the hotel during folk festival weekend than one customer that can’t seem to find another place to go for a week. It happens every year – put it on your calendar.

Vạn An Group
6 months ago

I tried to call Chuck Collins, the long-time manager, to report this issue. That’s when I found out he wasn’t retained after the purchase by Tlingit & Haida. He gave me the contact information for Sherry Aitken, the person at Tlingit & Haida now overseeing the hotel. I called to tell her about what happened the previous night. All I wanted was some assurance that this would not be allowed to happen next year. She listened but seemed rather annoyed about the call.
tóm tắt bởi: thi công nội thất khách sạn vạn an group

Linda Kaye Harter
6 months ago

Thank you for taking the time and energy to write this article. It’s more comprehensive than a Yelp “the place is a dump” critique and it includes the attempts you made to contact management.