Millions of dollars are about to be invested in the tiny hamlet of Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island, promises the owner of many of the community’s increasingly dilapidated properties.
“There’s a million dollars being spent right now, another million before the operational stage is straightened out and the first phase of development will be about $60 million,” Jack Purdy said in an interview from Edmonton.
After 19 years of watching the iconic Bamfield Inn fall into disrepair, the fuel dock, machine shop and other businesses close down and lodges left empty, residents badly want to believe change is in the offing.
“Something is going on, but we’re not sure what. He has painted the outside of the motel,” said Louis Druehl, editor of the monthly New Bamfielder.
It’s difficult for people to believe Purdy is putting money into properties because of previous disappointments, said Druehl, who is hoping Purdy’s waterfront land will be developed to attract young families to the picturesque community.
“With [Purdy] hanging on to so much, he has stunted the growth of the community,” he said.
La Bella Vita Resorts Ltd. of Calgary will manage Purdy’s 23 projects on 19 properties in Bamfield and Port Alberni.
The priorities are getting the fuel dock open and upgrading the Bamfield Trails Motel — possibly even bringing cellphone service to the motel, said Bella Vita spokesman Martin Lautsch.
Providing high-pressure fuel at the fuel dock to lure back the fishing fleet is also possible. “Bamfield has all sorts of possibilities. I know the long-term plan calls for a lot of rezoning and redevelopment,” Lautsch said. “I know the people in Bamfield are probably a bit skeptical and, in all fairness, I can’t blame them. … But if we didn’t feel confident in going forward with Jack Purdy, we wouldn’t have taken this project. We are following Jack’s vision.”
Several fishing lodges are now operational and work will start on the Bamfield Inn during the next phase, Lautsch said.
“We will get it operational as soon as possible, definitely in the next 18 to 24 months.”
Purdy was given bankruptcy protection by the Alberta courts in 2011 and his companies are subject to a court-monitored restructuring process.
The Bella Vita contract was court-approved last August, together with a $2.15-million loan to Purdy from Calgary-based Axcess Capital Partners, to enable him to pay off rural property taxes on 13 properties listed as forfeited to the province, and to revamp the Bamfield businesses so they could provide an income. Conan Taylor, Purdy’s lawyer, said he is optimistic that with money going into the Bamfield businesses, Purdy will be out of the restructuring process within months.
All back taxes have been paid, Taylor said.
“Those properties are either back registered in the name of the registered owner or the formal forfeiture process has been stopped,” Taylor said.
According to a court affidavit, Purdy owed $421,901 in provincial back taxes. The same document lists a $4.1-million judgment against one of Purdy’s companies by Canada Revenue Agency.
“Tremendous resources,” are being poured into Bamfield, which is impressive because of the tough economy, Taylor said.
“People are going to be quite amazed at what’s available this summer.”
Eric Geall, Bamfield’s representative on the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District, is hoping the optimism is justified and that the community has healed from the splits of almost two decades ago, when Purdy first proposed large developments that were turned down.
The priority is to attract young families to Bamfield and provide services, such as opening the swimming pool under the motel, Geall said. “The community has got to change and any movement from Jack Purdy would be part of it.… I really respect what Jack is trying to do,” he said. “If we’re looking to attract more diverse tourism dollars, there’s got to be more [activities] than just killing fish. … We need more entrepreneurial spirits.”
Geall believes the community, where the population has dropped to fewer than 200 people with only 10 kids in the school, has hit bottom and is starting to rebound.
“It’s a wonderful town, with great spirit.”