There are few places as majestically beautiful as the Southern Oregon Coast. The region from Reedsport to the California border showcases one stunning vista after another. Volcanic outcroppings thrust themselves in-and-out of deep blue seas. Arrive at the right time of year and you may see families of whales breaching above the sparkling sea. And yet, this is one stretch of countryside that gets little attention.
Due to its extreme remoteness and rugged countryside, Oregon’s South Coast rarely gets the kind of love places like Lincoln City and Seaside do. And yet Gene Pranger, owner of Gold Beach’s Pacific Reef Hotel, remains undeterred. If he has anything to say about it, things on the South Coast are about to get a lot busier.
Population 2,253, Gold Beach is a quiet coastal town nestled between Port Orford and Brookings. The mighty Rogue River dumps out into the Pacific Ocean at the north end of town, and serves as the conduit for one of the only two remaining mailboat routes in the United States. Every day a boat departs and heads upstream to deliver mail to the tiny mountain hamlet of Agness; yet another symbol of the slow march of time in this region.
Despite its remoteness, Gold Beach has plenty to provide the intrepid traveler, which is what led Pranger to purchase the Pacific Reef Hotel in 2004. An Oregon native, born and raised, Pranger never returned after leaving Corvallis to go to college, but he also never forgot the true beauty of his home. “It was always my hope that if we moved, we would eventually have a property on the Oregon Coast,” he says.
Originally called the Sand N’ Sea Motel when he purchased it, Pranger immediately changed the name and completely renovated the property. Whether you are staying in one of the luxuriously apportioned oceanfront condos, with their full kitchens and large balconies, or spending the night in an economy room, nearly everything is new. “We invested a lot of money into the property,” Pranger says. And they didn’t stop at comfort and aesthetic improvements. There was a business problem to solve.
The Pacific Reef Hotel struggles with a problem common to coastal properties: How to increase occupancy and average daily rates during the off season. Although the renovation and transformation into the Pacific Reef Hotel helped, “it still wasn’t ramping up the way it should,” says Pranger. It was then that he thought up the idea for an outdoor amphitheater. Despite a coast that can see “sustained winds up to one hundred miles per hour a few times a year,” Pranger knew there was technology available that could withstand extreme coastal weather conditions.
Having begun the planning in 2013, it would take two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the theater built. But now, after finishing the project in September, the Pacific Reef Hotel can lay claim to a first-of-its-kind outdoor attraction.
The screen is 32 feet wide by 12 feet high and is composed of two sets of four one-inch thick smart-glass panels. So as not to obstruct the view of the coastline, the panels can turn from opaque to transparent and back again either on a timer or at the flick of a switch. Powering the visuals is a Digital Projection rear-projection laser projector with 11,000 lumens. As a solid-state laser projector, it is powerful enough to cut through almost any weather condition. Locked up in a climate controlled enclosure that’s under constant surveillance, it’s well protected. The laser component scans across the glass panels millions of times a second and produces truly stunning imagery.
Knowing how important the production value would be, Pranger hired a professional video production company to shoot a short film documenting a number of local attractions and scenic excursions in the area. The video takes you from beautiful Thunder Bay Cove to the sweeping hush of the Bandon Dunes. It highlights the best the South Coast has to offer from sea to sand and sky. Pranger specifically focused on local attractions to, as he puts it, “to get people to stay an extra night, instead of immediately taking off on to the next city.”
Fortunately, it looks like his strategy is working. “We’re tracking a twenty to twenty-six percent increase in rooms being booked so far this year,” he says. In fact, the screen has proven so popular that the hotel next door tore down a wall separating the properties so that their guests could see it.
Pranger expects to recoup his expenditure on the new theater within two years. In the meantime, he continues to innovate. In addition to the theater, the hotel has installed a high-definition weather camera. Called the Pacific Reef Whale Cam, it sits atop a totem pole and points out to sea, providing a 24-hour westward feed. Inspiring the name, on clear days you may tap into the feed and spot whales breaching in the distance. The hotel also offers free access to the feed to TV stations for weather reporting purposes. You can access it by clicking or tapping here.
With well-apportioned ocean-front condos, a saltwater Jacuzzi, an industry-first outdoor amphitheater and a high definition weather camera, the Pacific Reef Hotel has put itself on the map as an attraction in of itself. A new buzz surrounds quiet Gold Beach, Oregon, and everyone stands to benefit. It looks like the sleepy Southern Oregon Coast is about to wake up.