TOP NEWS STORIES: Nanaimo closer to conference centre hotel

NANAIMO – SSS Manhao opted to take on the long-waited hotel development. Construction could start next spring.

The blueprint for a $50-million conference centre hotel is under review, bringing the city the closest it’s ever been to realizing its hotel dream.

Nanaimo city staff members will be looking at the building permit application for the long-awaited downtown hotel this January.

It’s the last step the hotel owners SSS Manhao need to take with the municipality before they’re cleared for construction.

“We’ve never gotten this far,” said Ian Howat, general manager of corporate services, who points that Millennium, the company formerly tasked with building a conference centre hotel, only made it to the development permit stage.

“We are confident that they are going to proceed with construction.”

For nearly a decade the Gordon Street lot has sat empty, reserved for a long-awaited conference centre hotel.

City officials believe quality hotel rooms are key to the Vancouver Island Conference Centre reaching its full potential and relying less on taxpayer subsidies.

But until now, attempts to build have failed by Triarc and Millennium developments.

This year, the conference centre hotel became a top newsmaker as SSS Manhao, the B.C. affiliate of a major Chinese tourism company, expressed interest in taking on the property. Nanaimo city council approved the sale of the lot last July and the development permit in October.

Designs for the $50-million, 240-room tower show a swimming pool, shops, restaurants and connecting tunnels to Piper Park and Nanaimo’s conference centre.

The build is anticipated to not only provide rooms for delegates, but also to attract close to 70,000 Chinese tourists each year. Nanaimo’s mayor and tourism operations have said the deal is a good one, with the company creating demand that could spill out into other hotels.

Businesses also expect to benefit from the new visitors and have considered new products and language workshops to prepare for the expected Chinese tourist boom.

Real estate agents have reportedly looked at leasing office space close to the hotel lot.

As 2013 wrapped up, the city transferred the Gordon Street property to SSS Manhao and accepted $565,000 in payment.

The architect for the build also handed over the blueprint in a building permit application city staff members are expected to review in the new year.

If SSS Manhao continues to move forward with the build, construction could start in the spring.