Hydraulic hammers and pile drivers will soon be at work on a vacant parcel of land on Gordon Street in downtown Nanaimo, B.C., in preparation for a nine-storey, $22-million Courtyard Marriott Hotel.
The city recently gave the green light to Utah-based PEG Developments to build on the site. Proposals by other developers had failed and this is the first time a permit has been issued.
Construction on the 172-room hotel, nestled across the street from the Vancouver Island Conference Centre, and between Casino Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Museum, is expected to start this month (April).
“We’re really excited to be in the Nanaimo and B.C. market,” said PEG development manager McKay Quinn, who will be overseeing the project. “We see a need in the market for a select service hotel. The location is great in the central business district next to the convention centre.”
The hotel has been a long time in the making. In 2009, Millennium Development Corp. proposed a hotel, but the deal fell through when the company wasn’t able to secure financing. In 2013, Chinese travel agent SSS Manhao proposed a hotel but it never got off the ground, following numerous delays.
Omicron Construction of Vancouver is the general on the project and design of the building has been done by Turner Fleischer Architects Inc. in Toronto.
Quinn said construction of the hotel will take about 19 months and must be finished by December 2020, as city council approved a 10-year property tax exemption worth about $4.5 million and a savings of about $650,000 in development cost charges if it’s opened by then.
PEG had originally proposed a six-storey hotel, but decided to go bigger in order to maximize the site and fill a need in the market, according to Quinn.
He said the hotel will have a 1,000-square-foot meeting room, a pool, fitness centre and spa as well as an indoor-outdoor street-level cafe that will complement the corner of Gordon Street and Museum Way.
The building itself will feature stone panels on the first couple of floors and a facade of different colours to blend with existing buildings. The hotel will front onto Gordon Street and have several angular sections, providing clear views of the streetscape from the rooms.
Quinn said building a hotel on the site is a little tricky and there are a number of hurdles to overcome. The ground must be compacted to create a more solid base and footings must be installed.
“It’s a bit of a tough site. The one side has some stone cliffs and there is very, very hard excavation there, and then on the opposite side towards the convention centre you have basically very loose, kind of garbage soil, that needs to be compacted with rapid impact compaction,” he said.
With rapid impact compaction, a hydraulic hammer repeatedly strikes the ground with an impact plate. The energy is transferred to the underlying loose granular soil and rearranges the particles into a denser formation, allowing for increased load-bearing capacity.
On the side with the stone cliffs, piers will anchor the foundation of the hotel to the bedrock.
“We designed the building so that all of the weight of the building, the elevator cores and the towers and the heavier parts of the building, are actually anchored on that side of the property so that they’re bearing on that bedrock foundation.”
Quinn said the developer and architects worked on the design for about a year and “feel like we have a really sustainable solution for the site.”
Parking was another issue that developers had to contend with, as there wasn’t much room, and PEG has an agreement with the city to lease parking in a parkade across the street.
City officials have long maintained that the hotel is crucial for downtown revitalization and the success of the conference centre. When the conference centre was built, the vision was to have a hotel next to it.
While the hotel is being built in the midst of a skilled-trade shortage, and on Vancouver Island which will bring its own challenges, Quinn is confident there will be enough workers available.
He said a number of contractors were interviewed, but Omicron was chosen because the developer felt comfortable with the company.
“It’s a challenging market to build in, but we feel we have the right team on board to make this happen. We feel confident in Omicron’s ability to perform on the general contractor side.”
The developer previously built a Courtyard Marriott hotel in Prince George, B.C. and plans to build more in Canada. The hotel will be the first Marriott north of Greater Victoria on the island.
Quinn said having Marriott build in Nanaimo is a boost for the city, as there aren’t any major brand hotels there.
“For us to enter into Nanaimo is a big step for that market,” he said. “We see that there’s a big need with the convention centre right there.
“We’ve already had the convention centre reach out to us trying to bid on getting conventions in town, so we already have traction moving forward with that.”