Hotel, marina redevelopment pitched for Nanaimo waterfront

The family who owns the Waterfront Hotel and Marina in Nanaimo is proposing to dismantle that 45-year-old building and replace it with a 10-storey waterfront hotel designed in a contemporary style.

Plans call for 25 to 30 condominium units and 110 hotel rooms, plus conference space, a lounge and cocktail bar, spa and food outlets at the 1000 Stewart Ave. property, said Odai Sirri, director of asset management for Waterfront Holdings Ltd.

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The company is also planning to expand waterfront activities available at its 80-boat marina with offerings such as charters and kayak rentals.

“I think there is an opportunity to make this a real signature development for Nanaimo,” Sirri said.

Increasing the number of activities offered will help make Nanaimo more of a destination, he said.

If people take part in a three- to four-hour event, they are likely to spend the night, bringing additional economic benefits to the community, Sirri said.

The proposal has been submitted to the city for rezoning because of its height and density. The planned use is already allowed.

Because the site slopes down to the water, the proposed hotel would stand eight storeys above Stewart Avenue, he said.

The existing 45-room Waterfront Hotel was developed by Nanaimo’s colourful former mayor, Frank Ney, Sirri said. It opened in 1974 as the Moby Dick Boatel.

Waterfront Holdings also owns the Grand Hotel Nanaimo, at 4898 Rutherford Rd. The company’s other hospitality holdings include an off-site catering business.

Because of the large amount of federal land held by the Nanaimo Port Authority, there is little private property to develop on the waterfront, making this one of the few sites where that can happen, Sirri said. The goal is to develop quality hotel rooms, which are in short supply in Nanaimo, he said.

More than 200 parking spots — mainly underground — would be built to serve the building of 125,000 to 130,000 square feet, he said. The building would be topped by a green roof.

Sight lines have been taken into account in the design. Because of the large amount of glass in the plans, people on the street would be able to see through the building to the water beyond, Sirri said.

The building’s design is reminiscent of a large vessel, such as a cruise ship, he said.

This proposal comes as Nanaimo is working toward a new economic development strategy and establishing an organization to back that up. Sirri said that it’s time to take the community to the next level as it grows.

If all goes smoothly and Nanaimo council approves the plan, construction could begin next year and would take 18 to 24 months to complete, he said.

Sirri is not releasing anticipated construction costs.

Lainya Rowett, manager of current planning in Nanaimo, said the rezoning application has been referred to local community groups, to city hall departments for comment and other relevant government bodies.

Frank Bourree, hospitality consultant with Chemistry Consulting, said: “The lead time in building and developing one of these properties is years, so by the time another hotel gets put up, there will definitely be a strong market for it.”

PEG Properties of Utah recently started construction on a nine-storey hotel on Gordon Street next door to the Vancouver Island Conference Centre.

Bourree agrees that there is a shortage of high-end hotel rooms and said a new hotel would benefit the city.

“Nanaimo is poised for some real development and growth,” he said, describing the city council as progressive and the business community enthusiastic.

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