It’s been more than four decades since a new hotel opened in the Vancouver Island city of Port Alberni. But that will be changing in the near future.
That’s because it was announced in early May 2023 that the Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses (HGB), the economic arm of Huu-ay-aht First Nation, has entered into a partnership with Tseshaht First Nation and MasterBUILT Hotels Ltd.
The partnership group is planning to build a Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham in Port Alberni.
The last hotel built in Port Alberni was the Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel. It opened its doors 43 year ago, in 1980.
According to Microtel by Wyndham, a microtel is franchised, a hotel with modern, smaller spaces that can save guests money. In the economy category of hotels, microtels can be built on a shorter construction schedule with lower start-up costs.
“I think it’s long overdue,” said Patrick Schmidt, the HGB’s CEO, adding he’s surprised that with expansion in the city and surrounding areas in recent decades that another local hotel wasn’t built earlier.
The plan for the new partnership is to build a 39,000-square foot hotel, which would include 76 rooms. Amenities would feature a pool and a waterslide.
Schmidt and other project officials are unwilling to give the exact location of where the hotel will be built. Or when construction on the facility might commence.
“We don’t want to give a specific date,” Schmidt said. “Like many hotels, there’s a process to get a lot of permits. We’re in the process of filing some of those permits now.”
Tseshaht First Nation chief councillor Ken Watts said project officials know where they would like to build the hotel.
“We have one preferred location,” he said. “And I can’t say where until we finalize some of the details.”
The project has been a couple of years in the making.
“They reached out to us with an opportunity they had,” Watts said of Huu-ay-aht officials. “We were going back and forth on it doing our own research.”
Schmidt confirmed talks for the proposed hotel first surfaced several years ago. But those plans were put on hold once the pandemic hit and the hotel industry took a major hit due to various travel restrictions.
With the tourism and hotel industries well on their ways in their pandemic recovery period, project reps believe it is time to proceed with a new facility.
“I think our community is pretty ecstatic about it,” Watts said. “They’ve been asking for it.”
The HGB will have a 61 per cent stake in the project. Tseshaht First Nation will own one-third, 33 per cent, of the hotel. And MasterBUILT Hotels Ltd., a Calgary-based hotel development and investment company, will own five per cent.
Watts said he is hoping construction on the hotel will begin this calendar year. After breaking ground, he believes it will take 12-18 months to complete the project.
The hotel will be designed to accommodate further expansion. Schmidt said an additional 24 rooms could be added in the future.
Huu-ay-aht councillor Evan Cook believes this partnership deal will have numerous benefits.
“This is a very exciting project that HGB has been working on for a number of years,” said Cook, who is in charge of economic development for his First Nation. “This partnership makes it possible to move forward on the Microtel, something that will benefit both nations and the Alberni Valley.”
Schmidt said it is not uncommon for hotels to have various managing partners. Cook is pleased others were brought on board.
“Each of the partners brings our own unique perspective, and together we make this project stronger,” he said. “It will offer employment and training opportunities to our people and residents of the Alberni Valley, while providing diversification in our business model.”
Schmidt said he is glad to see Tseshaht agreed to be part of the new venture.
“We think there’s a lot of advantages working with the other First Nation in our area,” he said.
David Donaldson, president and CEO of MasterBUILT Hotels, is also pleased his company is part of the project.
“We are very excited to partner with Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses and Tseshaht First Nation to bring a brand-new hotel to Port Alberni,” he said. “The Microtel Inn & Suites will raise the level of accommodation for both business and leisure travellers in the market, and more importantly, it will support economic growth in the local community for decades to come.”