Christmas decorations are going up and workers are putting finishing touches on the new Oak Bay Beach Hotel to prepare for Saturday's grand opening celebration.
After six years of construction, the grand hotel is staging a party after its namesake closed and was rebuilt.
The $52-million redevelopment has been rolled out in stages, starting with Kate's CafÃ© last month. The first room guests arrived in mid-November, and on Thursday, the dining room entertained its first patrons. The popular Snug pub is already serving drinks and meals, and the Boathouse Spa and Baths is in business with a trio of outdoor pools by the waterfront.
The project took much longer than originally expected. It was supposed to open in 2009, and then again in October and mid-November, but was caught in delays as the economic crisis hit and lingered.
The hotel developer and owner is Bison Properties Ltd., owned by Kevin and Shawna Walker.
Verity and Robert McKenzie of Saltspring Island revived a 35-year tradition when they met friends at the hotel this week. Friends since their youth, the couples had been meeting every year at the hotel.
Robert gave the hotel a glowing report, calling it fantastic. Verity said staff asked for suggestions on what can be improved. The McKenzies recommended minor improvements, such as grab bars in washrooms.
"It has just been great to get back," Verity said Thursday. "It is not the same as the old, but it is delightfully new."
Those familiar with the hotel will recognize old light fixtures in the Snug, the grand piano in the lobby and antique furniture in the dining room. "They are very real touchstones to the past," Kevin Walker said. "It feels really good to be back in the hotel business."
He's pleased with the hotel's performance to date.
The hotel's average daily room rate is $247, above the capital region's year-to-date rate of $138 for high-end rooms, Walker said. Tour contracts have already been booked for next year and 2014. Nightly room rates range from $138 to $1,100, he said.
Walker anticipates that the Christmas and New Year's periods will be sold out. He also said the 65-seat Snug is outperforming its predecessor. Private rooms have also been booked daily for functions.
Work is expected to be finished on the 20 private residences by Dec. 13. So far, six of these condos have sold. One is being held by the hotel company, and the remaining 13 are advertised for between $995,000 and $3.95 million.
Among the 100 hotel units, 24 have sold, Walker said. Available units are priced from $325,000 to $1.1 million. A total of 90 units are finished, and the rest are expected to be completed in mid-December.
"The last six months have been slower than I would have liked to have seen," Walker said of the sales pace. When the hotel missed its opening date, that put a "bit of a rumble" through the marketplace, he said, adding "consumer confidence is the No. 1 challenge."
After units opened two weeks ago, interest has picked up and three more sales have been penned, Walker said.
Buyers are attracted by amenities and services available at the hotel, and many are downsizing and retiring, Walker said.
Units are strata-title condominiums available to owners for up to 16 weeks per year. Owners lease their unit back to the hotel company, which is responsible for renting the unit and paying owners monthly rent.
A flat rental fee, adjusted every five years, is part of the purchase agreement.
The hotel also covers expenses such as property taxes, Walker said.
"The long-term goal is to buy all the inventory back," Walker said.
SATURDAY'S GRAND OPENING
11: 30 a.m.: Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen greets Kevin and Shawna Walker at Oak Bay Municipal Hall.
Noon: Ribbon-cutting at hotel.
Noon to 3: 45 p.m. Guided tours of hotel, suites and gardens.
12: 30 p.m. to 4: 30 p.m.: Free shuttle service between Oak Bay Village and the hotel.
1 p.m. to 3 p.m.: Samples of afternoon tea.
2 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Access to the mineral pools, once signed up at the Boathouse Spa and Baths.
>> Take a tour of the new Oak Bay Beach Hotel on our website
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