Letter: Kelowna hotel/condo plan keeps changing

Letter writer says project focussing on more high-end condominium units than a hotel

To the editor:

Ever so gradual, the developer who convinced council to allow them to build a much-needed hotel at the foot of Bernard is patiently and strategically morphing the original plan into anything but a hotel. After years of planning and approvals, the land still sits idle.

Eight years ago the community passionately debated about transforming the low profile downtown core with its unique character of shops, restaurants, lake, mountains and open sky views into a massive cluster of high-rises in a plan known as CD21. This comprehensive redevelopment plan was eventually nixed in favour of enhancing the low-rise downtown experience with wider sidewalks and outdoor eating establishments that has proven to be very successful. The high-rise condominiums and office buildings have been constructed further back from the core along with many more either in the planning stages or under construction. In other words, the master plan is working well.

When CD21 was put to rest, the developer that spearheaded the concept requested that they at least be able to build an iconic hotel on the waterfront as this would add a much-needed and complimenting amenity to the downtown core. To encourage approval, they also agreed to (and built) a large public wharf, gas bar and parking for boats to service the tourism industry and proposed hotel. A 19 storey hotel on the site was subsequently welcomed by council. The developer later claimed that a minimum of 200 rooms would be needed to make it viable and as such they ended up designing a 24 storey building with 214 rooms. Although the height was well beyond the surrounding area’s character, most of the community accepted this single structure because of its intended purpose.

Since then, the approved plans have gone through more revisions with each one lessening the focus on the hotel in exchange for high-end condominium units. The developer has added eight more floors of condominiums (the building has grown from 19 to 32 storeys) and also reduced the hotel rooms to 174, well below the number they stated was needed for a viable hotel.

I think it’s time to call this ever-changing project what it could eventually become; a primary residential condominium with a large wharf needed mostly to store the boats for a privileged few. I am not against providing such but the location then needs to move.

I have been told by numerous developers that building a hotel is expensive and comparatively less profitable to building high-end condominiums. I can accept that point of view but that does not mean new hotels cannot be successfully built. Perhaps it’s time to stick to the original plan and wait for someone who understands the hotel business to come forward. If an upscale hotel-only is going to be viable anywhere, this location is certainly a no-brainer. Council just has to make it clear that this location is reserved for nothing but. Then, it will happen and at a scale that will complement rather than overpower the area we all worked hard to nurture.

Michael Neill, Kelowna