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Oak Bay hotel nears the finish line

Job fair set for filling dozens of positions at luxury resort

It has been nearly seven years since Kevin Walker shuttered his Oak Bay Beach Hotel, and while he admits he never expected it would take so long to bring the waterfront site back to life, he's coming to grips with the fact a very long journey is nearly finished.

"We're starting to realize that in a couple of months we will be right back in the rhythm of running a busy hotel," Walker said. "It's been an interesting ride, for sure."

The realization they are nearing the finish line is helped along by the fact the hotel has announced it will hold a "talent fair" Aug. 9-11 at the Oak Bay Recreation Centre, where the hotel's senior management will sift through applicants to fill 120 positions.

Walker said he doesn't expect to have too much trouble filling the spots.

"The initial reaction through the marketplace was very strong, and previous to [announcing the fair], many of our past work force indicated their desire to come back and work with us, so we will be rounding up the cream of the crop from our historic team," he said.

Walker also noted the hotel still carries a lot of cachet in the industry - which should help it draw out the necessary talent.

"I think people will view it as it should be viewed: a new product, a new property, a new Oak Bay Beach Hotel, and they will find it to be one of Canada's finest destination resorts by the time my operations team is fully engaged," he said.

The project - which will feature a 100-room hotel, 20 luxury residences, seaside mineral pools, a fitness centre, The Snug pub, the David Foster Foundation Theatre and a fine-dining restaurant - already has a management crew of 24 at work in the completed administrative wing of the property.

Walker said the bulk of the new staff would cover the labour-intensive areas such as food and beverage - there are seven different food experiences in the hotel - the service team and the spa.

With a hiring plan in place, Walker just needs a finished hotel.

Builders remain on site at the $52-million project with finishing work being done on the main floor and guest bedrooms.

"The guest rooms are getting very close to having the furniture moved in, maybe three to four weeks away," Walker said, adding the plan right now is to open the first week of October.

Walker did not rule out opening earlier, or at least having a soft opening to ensure everything is in working order before paying guests arrive.

He expects the residential owners who bought the condominiums on the fourth floor of the hotel will be able to move in by late October.

Many of them are having extra custom work done in their units.

Looking back, Walker said it was hard to believe it took so long to get here.

"Had I seen this dream in advance, it probably would have looked like a nightmare to me," he said with a laugh.

"It's funny, though - when you live it day by day, it's not so bad, you keep chipping away at it.

"We certainly had to create a lot of interesting solutions to some very challenging dynamics. I must say, the world challenged us a great deal."

When the global economic meltdown led to sales drying up and traditional credit options tightening late in 2008, Walker used bond offerings to help finance the development.

The list of staffing positions at the hotel and more information on the hiring fair is on the hotel's website ( employment.php).

The fair will run from 2 to 6 p.m. Aug. 9 and 10 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 11 at Oak Bay Recreation Centre, 1975 Bee St.

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