By: Ian Ross
After months of delay, construction has resumed on a future landmark hotel on Thunder Bay’s renovated waterfront. According to Winnipeg developer Gisele MacDonald, principal of the ReSolve Group, work is underway on the below-ground mechanical systems for a new Marriott-Delta hotel. “I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it wasn’t without a lot of tenacity and hard work,” said MacDonald, of the resumption of construction.
First announced in 2012, construction has been idled for a year due to the takeover of Delta Hotels by Marriott International and the ReSolve Group’s own struggles in clearing a multitude of construction liens brought against three of their waterfront land parcels, including an adjoining two-tower condominium project.
With those issues out of the way, MacDonald said BNL Contracting of Thunder Bay was on the job in November to kick off a 16-month construction schedule.
Located in a prime spot at Prince Arthur’s Landing, the city’s redeveloped section of waterfront, MacDonald paid credit to the City of Thunder Bay for a “great job” in putting together the city’s master plan.
It designated the north end as an arts and entertainment district, and spurred a multi-million dollar waterfront effort.
The ReSolve Group project includes a two-tower condominium complex adjacent to the hotel that MacDonald said is six units short of being completely sold out.
The developer also signed a 99-year lease with the city to find tenants for the historic CN train station nearby. MacDonald said it will involve mixed-use retail, the details of which will be announced sometime soon.
She sees the hotel as providing a fresh new look for the north core that will bridge the downtown to the waterfront.
With new public amenities, such as a skateboard park and splash pad-ice skating rink, it’s generated year-round waterfront activity and festival traffic, creating what MacDonald describes as a “hotel in the park.”
The eight-storey, four-star upscale venue will offer 150 guest rooms and suites, including 18 penthouse rooms. A full-service restaurant, business centre, fitness area, and terrace lounge overlooking the harbour will be among the hotel’s unique features.
Geared to the business traveller, MacDonald promises the guest rooms will be laden with the latest fibre optics.
“We’re going to be dealing with good technology features that I don’t believe any of the hotels in Thunder Bay have.”
Toronto-based mackaywong Hospitality Design will work on the interiors.
“It’s going to be a modern, sleek, clean design,” said MacDonald, “not minimalist and cold.
“I have to tell you, I think people are going to be pretty wowed.”
The hotel will be a 15-minute shuttle ride to the airport.
For conferences, the hotel will provide a combined 9,000 square feet of flexible meeting and gathering space, including a 5,300-foot ballroom.
With “spectacular” views of the Sleeping Giant peninsula, MacDonald thinks it’ll be the perfect setting for weddings, anniversaries and other special events. And being connected to Marriott’s worldwide reservation system will be transformational in promoting Thunder Bay’s already robust conference business, she said.
With Thunder Bay’s hotel occupancy rate routinely running at 80 per cent year-round, MacDonald feels the hotel will augment and enhance the city’s robust conference traffic.
Paul Pepe, the City of Thunder Bay’s tourism manager, said the city enjoyed a very successful year in tourism with record hotel occupancy rates, including 91.8 per cent in August.
In recent years, there’s been a surge in local hotel construction with the TownePlace Suites, Holiday Inn Express and Suites and the 104-room Hampton Inn and Suites, which opened last September next to the Valhalla Inn, near the airport.
Last fall, another hotel project – brand unknown – was proposed to the city for Oliver Road and the Thunder Bay Expressway. Pepe attributes the hotel construction boom to the city’s humming life sciences sector and abundance of First Nations business, health care and education traffic, which keeps hotel rooms keep turning over and meeting rooms are frequently booked.
“The mineral exploration is starting to creep up again quietly and our summer leisure traffic has come back in a big, big way particularly this (past) year.”
Visitorship from Manitoba has doubled in volume and Quebec travellers, once less than one per cent of tourists, has inched up to three per cent based on registrations at the local visitors centre.
And the low Canadian dollar brought back the U.S. Midwest tourist market in 2016.
“We’re seeing Thunder Bay’s reputation grow as Canada’s premier outdoor city, which has been our mission statement,” said Pepe.
His department’s marketing shift has moved toward enticing more motorcycle tourists on the Lake Superior Circle Route, hosting more sporting events like the Can-Am Police Fire Games, and promoting the city’s thriving culinary scene, which has drawn industry press and foodies from across the northwest and northern Minnesota.
Improved air connectivity – with 16 daily flights to Toronto on three airlines –has opened new doors to bringing new markets of people interested in what the city has to offer, Pepe said.
“People are extending their stay to experience the culinary scene or a particular event.”
For conference-goers with a few hours to kill, that’s good value added for the city, he added.
“We’re seeing growth across a lot of different sectors. We’ve got good balanced growth in sport tourism, meetings and conventions, corporate-related and our leisure activity all seem to be growing side-by-side.”
His department frequently promotes the city as the jumping-off point to world-class paddling and rock and ice climbing.
What’s most encouraging is that he’s seeing a generation of young visionary entrepreneurs filling the gaps in tourism-related services on the culinary, transportation and outdoor adventure side.
Photo Credit: NorthernOntarioBusiness.com