A plan to build a 24-storey lakefront hotel in downtown Kelowna has crossed its final hurdle following city council’s decision to allow it to be higher than council’s current 19-storey limit for new buildings downtown.
While there was little doubt the proposal to build the hotel at the foot of Queensway by Edmonton-based Westcorp would be approved given council had already said yes to other aspects of the project and has sold a portion of the yet-to-be closed Mill Street to the company to accommodate the development, the proposal still drew enthusiastic praise from the mayor and some of his councillors.
Mayor Walter Gray, who led a round of applause by some on council after they voted to approve the height variance and other minor setback variances, praised Westcorp president Phil Milroy for his patience in getting his proposal approved.
“If there was ever an award for patience, Phil Milroy would get it,” said Gray referring to the fact the plan was in the works for more than 15 years and has gone through several variations. In the past, some of the variations were controversial, including one dubbed CD21 because of the development zone that would have been created to allow it and another that included two large towers on the site.
Long-time city councillor Robert Hobson said he felt the the project is exactly what that end of Bernard Avenue has “always deserved,” and described the planned elliptical tower sitting on a four-story podium building as a unique piece of architecture.
“This will be iconic,” said Hobson.
Coun. Andrew Blanleil noted there has been virtually no public opposition to the project, exemplified by the fact that, in his words, the city received no “flak” for agreeing to close Mill Street and sell a portion of it to Westcorp. The city received 57 letters of support for the project from a wide variety of local business groups and individuals.
But the biggest smile of the evening was worn by Milroy.
While he cautioned there is still a great deal of work to be done—detailed design work will take six to eight months before the two-year building project can start—he conceded he was very happy and excited.
“It’s taken longer than we thought it would when we started but this is great,” he said following the council vote Monday night.
Milroy said construction of the hotel, which will contain 205 rooms down from the original estimate of 214, will cost $65 million. Millions more will be spent on furnishing and equipping the hotel and conference centre that will located in the podium section of the building. The podium will also contain a multi-storey parkade, restaurants, a roof-top pool and commercial units. The hotel will be operated by Westcorp and have a staff of about 100.
In return for allowing the extra height, the company has agreed to pay just under $360,000 of the estimated $4 million bill the city is looking at to renovate Kerry Park, which sits adjacent to the hotel site.
With Mill Street closed, a pedestrian walkway will be build as part of the park redevelopment that will separate the hotel property from the park. On the lakeside of the park is the $5.1 million public pier and day-use marina and the commercial dock that Westcorp built in anticipation of the hotel project going ahead.
The hotel is slated to open in early 2017.