Hundreds impacted by Windmill changes

Windmill Inn's announcement it would no longer offer conference facilities beginning in November left groups with spots reserved well into next year scrambling for new accommodations.

The Rotary Club of Ashland was scheduled to host the 2008 District Conference next May, an opportunity the club sees once every 10 to 15 years. As many as 700 members were expected to attend from the district, which includes 68 clubs in Oregon and northern California, according to Ron Bolstadt, president of the Ashland club.

But after receiving a cancellation letter from Windmill and searching for alternative venues in Ashland, the club determined the conference would have to switch cities. So far, Eugene is the top contender.

"It was a decision not taken lightly," Bolstadt said. "Every effort has been made to pull this together for Ashland."

The club especially wanted to host the conference this year, he said, because the current district governor, Tim Bewley, is a member of the Ashland club. And the loss extends beyond the club, Bolstadt added.

"It's a loss for the community itself," Bolstadt said. "It's a loss of revenue and shoppers for our businesses, hotels and restaurants."

While the Rotarians opted for a new city, other Ashland venues have filled in the gaps for smaller conferences and events, like the annual Oregon Health Science University Ashland Endocrine Conference in August and the Lions Club state convention in May.

"We will try to our best ability to accommodate the groups that have already been scheduled," said Mary Pat Parker, director of public relations for the Chamber of Commerce. The Historic Ashland Armory, Ashland Springs Hotel and Stratford Inn have all stepped forward, she said, but none offer the more than 12,000 square feet of space available at the Windmill.

The annual OHSU Ashland Endocrine Conference also lost their reservations for next August. Although the organization plans to keep the conference in Ashland, the success of next year's conference will determine if they stay.

"This is going to be a trial to see how this works," said Paula Bisaccio, who is planning the event. Her biggest concern is transporting some 120 attendees between different venues.

The conference meetings take place Wednesday until Saturday until 12:30 p.m., then the attendees are free to explore the city with their families, she said. Most attend a play, and many go rafting or try local restaurants, reasons Bisaccio said she hoped the conference would remain in Ashland.

"Windmill Inn kind of had it all," she said. "It would be nice to have another facility at least similar to the Windmill that is family-oriented and has rooms available and the conference facilities."

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