Despite hospitality downturn, backers of new Kanata Wingate hotel eager to open doors

Wingate by Wyndham Kanata West

One of the major local investors behind a new hotel in Kanata says the group is champing at the bit to open the new property – despite the city being in the throes of what’s likely the worst year for tourism in decades.

“There is uncertainty, but we know that we have a good product,” said Denis Shank, a local real estate broker and one of the financial backers of the new Wingate by Wyndham Kanata West Ottawa hotel. “We’re excited.”

The 122-room lodging on Campeau Drive, just a few slapshots west of the Canadian Tire Centre and a block from the Tanger Outlets mall on the north side of Highway 417, is slated to open soon – although exactly when is still not set in stone.

“We’re really trying to find the right timing,” Shank said, adding the ownership group is now aiming for a late-summer launch date. “We want to get going.”

Wingate by Wyndham Kanata West

Shank says he, general manager Ken Kirby and managing partner Luc Sergerie been constantly monitoring occupancy rates in the Ottawa region, which have gradually risen from around five per cent at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to above 20 per cent recently. He said the owners remain confident the local hotel market is once again on an upswing that will pave the way for a late-summer or early-fall opening.

“There’s no (playbook) that’s been written on this,” he said. “We are hopeful that the (occupancy) trend will continue climbing. We want to get into the action sooner than later.”

‘We know the market is there’

Shank said Ottawa’s steady-as-she-goes government-driven economy has managed to hold its own during the pandemic, with the tech sector in particular showing resilience that bodes well for a bounceback.

“We’ll get through this,” he said. “This is Ottawa – the most stable economy in the country. The tech world is on fire. We know the market is there.”

With seasoned hotel executive Kirby at the helm, Shank said he expects the new project – which features a 2,000-square-foot meeting space and a full-service fitness centre as well as an indoor pool and jacuzzi – to navigate through the current economic turbulence and come out on the other side relatively unscathed. 

“We’re not expecting great numbers (right away), but we’re confident that before the end of the summer, there will be some business traction,” he said. 

“We’re going to start out slowly like other ventures that are in this industry. We’re confident that in no time … things will continue gradually climbing back, and we want to be ready for that.”

Wingate by Wyndham Kanata West

While Shank, the managing partner of Ottawa’s Capworth Commercial Realty Brokerage, wouldn’t give an exact price tag for the project, he said similar hotels typically cost in the “twentysome-million-dollar” range. The hotel’s other backers include Boreal Hospitality Group, which owns and manages Wyndham-branded properties across Eastern Canada.

Neighbouring business park booming

Under ordinary circumstances, such a project would probably be considered a sound investment. 

In addition to its proximity to shopping and NHL hockey ​– whenever it returns to the city – the new property is also a just a few minutes’ drive from Taggart Realty’s burgeoning Kanata West Business Park. 

The new 300,000-square-foot commercial development across from the CTC is attracting a number of big-name tech tenants, including fast-growing software firm Kinaxis, which is moving its headquarters to a building now under construction on the site. 

On nearby Palladium Drive, meanwhile, auto giant Ford operates a major R&D facility next door to the headquarters of another locally based corporate powerhouse, Calian Group. With the Bell Sensplex rink complex in the same neighbourhood, Shank and his partners figure it’s a good bet that the new hotel will attract business travellers in town for meetings from Monday to Friday, then draw families with kids taking part in hockey tournaments and other events on weekends.

But as the veteran real estate executive knows all too well, these are not normal circumstances. The COVID-19 lockdown dealt a crippling blow to tourism in the National Capital Region this summer, forcing the cancellation of virtually every major festival and event. 

While occupancy at some downtown hotels has crept up in the past couple of weeks on the strength of domestic road-trippers from Toronto and Montreal, the local industry as a whole continues to suffer, with overall occupancy rates far below the 80 per cent levels normally seen in peak summer season and about a third of all lodgings in the region still shuttered.

With the Canada-U.S. border closed to car traffic and 50-person limits on indoor gatherings scuttling virtually all meeting and convention business, industry leaders concede many hotels in the capital will likely continue to struggle for some time to come.

“I just think it’ll be a fairly long, slow road ahead of us to recover to the numbers that we were at in 2019,” Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association president Steve Ball told OBJ last week.