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Hotel Rio Vista sold

photo of Holet Rio Vista sign Paul and Melissa Peterson are buying the Hotel Rio Vista. They are moving to the valley this weekend with their two sons, Leatham, on left, and Weston. Photo by Tiffany Parrish. 

The Hotel Rio Vista in downtown Winthrop is getting new owners and nothing could make seller Lucinda McAllister happier. “I’m very excited to give it to a young couple who wants to be here. They have wonderful ideas,” McAllister said.

The new owners are valley native Melissa (Bradshaw) Peterson and her husband, Paul Peterson. “I’ve known Melissa since birth,” McAllister said. “She went through school with my kids.” When Melissa told McAllister she’d love to move back to the Methow Valley from the Seattle area, “I said, ‘Why don’t you buy the hotel?’ ” They are doing just that.

“We are beyond excited,” Melissa Peterson said. “We can’t even put it in words.” The couple married eight years ago. “For the last four years we’ve been going back and forth with Lucinda” talking about timing while “working and saving.”

The sale will close June 1. However, the Petersons sold their house in Everett in five days and the new owners wanted them out in two weeks, so they will move to the valley by the end of March. The Petersons and their two boys, Leatham, who’s almost 4, and Weston, age 2, will move in with her parents, Bart and Velma Bradshaw, while they look for housing and get resettled. They’ll also work with McAllister at the Rio Vista for six weeks before taking over.

Paul Peterson is a native of Tacoma with a degree in accounting. He is a certified public accountant and is leaving a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers to become the main person running the hotel.

Melissa, a 2002 graduate of Liberty Bell High School, has a degree in business management with an emphasis on marketing. She has been working at home managing marketing, payroll, bookkeeping and customer service for two businesses while raising her boys. She said she is keeping her jobs although she expects to fill in at the hotel.

photo of Bill and LucindaHotel Rio Vista owner Lucinda McAllister, on right, and her “partner for life” Bill Wallien, left, who has helped her maintain the hotel for the past 14 years, are retiring as soon as the sale closes on June 1. Photo by Karen West.

The Petersons will revamp the hotel website and plan “to update and modernize some of the rooms,” Melissa said.

The irrepressible McAllister said the very day the papers were signed she made reservations for a trip to Turkey and Uzbekistan.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for 19 years, except for the two years I took off to travel all over the world, which is what I’m going to do when this is over,” she added.

“I am completely retiring. I will do my selfish things traveling and all,” but McAllister said she also looks forward to getting more involved in the valley – perhaps lending a hand at The Cove and spending time in Winthrop’s tourist information center.

“I want to see the world and take in all there is in this valley,” she said. Bill Wallien, her “partner for life” for the past 14 years, probably won’t travel quite as much as McAllister. “Somebody has to take care of the dogs,” he quipped.

Wallien, who retired earlier from his post as manager of the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery, has been in charge of maintenance at the Rio Vista.

The two-story hotel, which overlooks the confluence of the Methow and Chewuch rivers, opened in December 1991. But on the evening of May 24, 2002, the Rio Vista and adjacent Riverside Lodge were destroyed in a spectacular fire started by a guest at the lodge, who left a candle burning when she left her room. No one was hurt although guests lost their belongings and many their vehicles.

McAllister credited her desk clerk with getting an evacuation underway quickly. “I had been home 20 minutes when I got the call about the fire,” McAllister said. She raced back to town and watched the inferno from across the street. 

An Everett woman was arrested and later pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree reckless burning. She was sentenced to six months in jail, 12 months in community custody and ordered to pay restitution of more than $1.3 million at the rate of $250 a month.

photo of Hotel Rio Vista fireThe original Hotel Rio Vista and Riverside Lodge were destroyed by fire on May 24, 2002. No one was hurt although guests lost their belongings and many their vehicles. Residents on Castle Avenue took this picture. Photo courtesy Lucinda McAllister.
McAllister and Wallien said the woman taped one penny to a piece of paper and mailed it to Okanogan County Superior Court and that was the only restitution ever received as far as they know.

The fire remains a topic of conversation for some hotel guests, said McAllister, who has a three-ring binder filled with photographs and newspaper clippings about the event. “I’ve got framed pictures in the lobby of the building before, during and after the fire,” she added.

The first Rio Vista was built by Sam Sanford, McAllister said. Today’s 29-room hotel covers the original Rio Vista and Riverside Lodge properties and was completed in 11 months by contractor Jeff Brown. It re-opened in 2003.

As befits a small town, McAllister’s personal story is also part of local lore. She said she moved to the valley in 1975 with then-boyfriend, later husband, later ex-husband and now “best friend” Dale Fasse, a local realtor. They lived in a tent in Edelweiss and were the first to build in that Mazama community. “We were young. We thought it was wonderful to be out of the tent, have wood heat and occasional [running] water,” she said of moving into the house.

They had children – now college graduates living “happily” in Seattle. “They love city life,” according to their mom, who hopes they don’t someday regret not buying the Rio Vista. But after a life of raising kids, waitressing and many years in the hotel business, McAllister is ready to move on.

“I gave it [the hotel] my oomph for the first 12 or 14 years…but I got lazy,” she said. It’s time for new owners with energy and new ideas, she added. Meanwhile, she is looking forward to what she hopes will be at least 20 more years of “every adventure possible.”


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