Toronto-based Skyline International has received the go-ahead for a huge new mixed-use master-planned community that will significantly raise the profile of what is already recognized as a world-class destination, Muskoka’s Deerhurst Resort.
Huntsville town council gave expeditious approval to the $500-million Deerhurst Village Centre project on Sept. 28, culminating a three-year consultation process that saw buy-in from all stakeholders including at least four groups of area ratepayers.
Skyline intends to create a new Village Centre at Deerhurst that will add 150 new hotel rooms, 486 "resort-related" residential units and 45,000 square feet of retail and mixed-use space. Construction starts this fall and significant completion is expected by July 2017.
The spending comes on the heels of other major projects announced or already underway from Skyline at Deerhurst and its other resort properties in Ontario, including the 162-unit Lakeview Lodge approved for Deerhurst and $10 million in upgrades to various Deerhurst facilities such as its Pavilion guest rooms and the Maple Pub and Fitness Centre.
Skyline is currently building Horseshoe’s Copeland Lodge, offering 62 units of apres-ski lodging at the foot of Horseshoe’s ski hills near Barrie, with phase one of four planned phases nearing completion. Also slated are condos at Port McNicoll, on Georgian Bay near Midland, and Skyline has spent millions on its Blue Mountain Resort, west of Collingwood on Georgian Bay.
But the Deerhurst projects are Skyline’s most ambitious yet among its cottage country resorts.
"Deerhurst is iconic to Canadians," said Skyline CEO Michael Sneyd. "It’s synonymous with Muskoka. We want to make sure we are honouring this historic brand and the communities that surround it in everything we do."
There are currently over 300 third-party-owned condos and 102 Skyline-owned hotel units on site at Deerhurst in addition to convention and meeting facilities and extensive recreational amenities on the Peninsula Lake waterfront.
Deerhurst also offers two golf courses, riding stables, treetop trekking, hiking trails, spas, indoor rock climbing and more. National Geographic recognized it in its Best of the World rankings in 2012. But Sneyd says it was time to grow.
"Deerhurst was definitely due for growth to the next level," he said in an interview. "As a resort destination and a resort community, you look at the success of Blue Mountain and Tremblant and we can duplicate that success at Deerhurst."
At public meetings there were a handful of concerns cited including the project’s environmental impact and competition from the new Deerhurst Village Centre potentially affecting Huntsville retailers 10 kilometres away. Sneyd said Skyline would offer satellite retail space at Deerhurst to Huntsville retailers. Meanwhile, Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison was effusive in his praise for the project.
"This is tremendous news for Huntsville and the Muskoka District’s hospitality and resort offerings," said Aitchison. "Deerhurst is already the largest single employer in Muskoka and we are thrilled that Skyline International is continuing to invest in the resort and surrounding communities."
At a public meeting held Aug. 12, Robert Hurst, president of Peninsula Lake Association (PLA), said that among his association’s objectives are to ensure the best possible development that meets the Official Plan while protecting the historical integrity of the Pen Lake-Fairy Lake canal, as well as environmental needs. Sneyd said he had dozens of meetings with town officials and residents associations including five open houses and private discussions with Hurst in Muskoka and at Sneyd’s Toronto office.
Sneyd noted that the economic spinoffs of Skyline’s investment will include a boost to employment not only at Deerhurst but also in Huntsville, and both in the tourism-industry and also in the construction sector.
"It is the number-one employer for the local region," said Sneyd. "With the expansion, and adding Lakeside Lodge to Deerhurst increases it by 25 per cent, and all of those buyers will use our food and beverage operations, they will golf, they will use our waterfront operations, they will ski at Hidden Valley and they will shop at Huntsville.
"The economic spinoffs are large, not to mention the huge economic spinoff that will be created by the construction.
"As we move from Lakeside Lodge into the Village Centre it will be one project after another. The district can count on those construction jobs being maintained for many years into the future."
Skyline’s economic analysis has estimated that the Village Centre development will generate over 900 direct construction jobs. The town and district will also benefit from fees and development charges.
Sneyd said that given the huge price tag of its Deerhurst projects, Skyline was willing to work with new investment partners.
In total, Skyline owns over 2 million square feet of real estate and has over 2,600 acres with development rights for almost 7,000 residential units and nearly 1,300 rooms in its holdings, employing more than 1,500 staff. Besides its Ontario resorts, it owns Toronto’s Omni King Edward Hotel as well as the Pantages Hotel and Spa. In late 2014 the company acquired Bear Valley Ski Resort in California.