Nanaimo’s Howard Johnson hotel closing after 56 years

The 100-room Howard Johnson Harbourside Hotel in Nanaimo is closing its doors on Oct. 31 after 56 years of business.

“The hotel does not meet the needs of the travelling public,” Len Wansbrough, president of Metropolitan Capital Partners, said Wednesday. His company has been contracted as a property manager for the 7.2-acre site in downtown Nanaimo.

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“It is not a viable hotel.”

The Howard Johnson was built in the 1950s-1960s style of a traditional travellers’ motel. It has a seasonal outdoor heated pool and a gym. It does not have an elevator.

No decision has been made on the future of the building, Wansbrough said.

Attention is focused on the 18 full-time staff members and helping them find new positions. Some have been there for a decade, with the longest-serving employee starting 27 years ago.

The Martin family of Victoria owns the property and will continue to operate as the landlord for the site’s three tenants — a church, fitness centre and a plumbing and heating business, Wansbrough said. Those uses are remaining after the hotel closes.

After the hotel shuts in two months, the future of the site will be studied, Wansbrough said.

Hotel operations manager Erik Brook, said: “Having spent 20-plus years of my hotel career at this hotel it is sad to see it close, but we are excited to see what the future holds for the property.”

The property has long been eyed for redevelopment. One 2015 proposal, which did not proceed, saw the owners propose an $80-million hotel with a 5,000-seat multiplex which could be home for a hoped-for Western Hockey League team.

Frank Bourree, a principal with Victoria’s Chemistry Consulting, said the older property “is in need of an upgrade or a complete rebuild.”

Even so, the hotel, and others in Nanaimo, had a strong tourism year, Bourree said. Nanaimo needs more upper-tier hotel rooms, he added.

He expects that given the current labour shortage, the hotel’s existing staff will be able to quickly find new work.

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