Majestic Algonquin Resort reopening after multi-million dollar facelift

The Algonquin Resort, recognized as one of Canada's top 20 resorts a year ago by Conde Naste Traveler Magazine Conde Naste Traveler Magazine, majestically overlooks New Brunswick’s scenic Passamaquoddy Bay.
The historic hotel dominates a hilltop in the town of St.-Andrews-By-The-Sea. No fewer than three American presidents and virtually every Canadian prime minister has stayed at the former CPR hotel since it was superbly crafted in 1889.
The four-storey, half-timbered structure evokes wealth and luxury which wouldn't be out of place in The Great Gatsby.
However, in 2011, the New Brunswick government – the hotel's owner since 1984 – decided to sell off the property when the management agreement with Fairmount Hotels and Resorts Fairmount Hotels and Resorts expired.
Reopening in June
Halifax’s Southwest Properties Southwest Properties bought the hotel in June 2012 for an undisclosed sum, (Southwest, a privately held company, does not disclose its financials), along with its management partner, New Castle Hotels & Resorts NewCastle Hotels and Resorts. Now, after a multi-million dollar renovation, the Algonquin will reopen in June, rebranded under the Marriot’s Autograph Collection of hotels.
At first glance, Southwest Properties’ purchase of an historic hotel seems an odd move. The company is best known as a property developer and manager.

The Algonquin Resort purchased by Southwest Properties in 2012
But Southwest is also steadily growing and diversifying. The firm is currently juggling initial work on a 63-acre area that in 10 years could be home to as many as 4,000 people, constructing two large residential buildings in downtown Halifax and buying and retrofitting one of Canada’s classic hotels.
“We look for commercial real estate opportunities where maybe other people aren’t necessarily going to see the potential in the property,” said Gordon Laing, Southwest president and chief operating officer.
“Because of that, they tend to be a distress pricing and then we’ll come in and redevelop the property, make it into something hopefully better and different than what it was and create some value.”
After Moirs shuttered its Dartmouth-based chocolate factory in the mid-2000s, Southwest purchased the building. Today, the facility is completely leased, featuring retail in the front, the Nova Scotia Community College in the back and a call centre in the middle.
Similarly, in 2004, the company purchased a struggling office building in downtown St. John’s, N.L., then operating with a 25 per cent vacancy rate.
Atlantic Place a major success
Southwest came in with an architect and retail design firm and opened the building up to the second floor, put huge windows in the back to take advantage of the harbour views and added a fitness centre and food court. Atlantic Place Atlantic Place is now 100 per cent occupied and Laing calls it “a great success story.”
Southwest Properties got its start in the late 1950s when grocery store owner Simon Spatz bought several houses and an apartment building under the name of Spatz Rentals and Real Estate.
In the late '60s, Spatz sold his store and went into real estate full-time as the business evolved into Southwest Apartments. In 1988, Spatz’s son Jim, an emergency medical physician, joined the business and aided in its expansion to commercial real estate.
The firm’s first large purchase was Sunnyside Mall in Bedford, N.S. The mall’s redesign subsequently won two Maple Leaf Retail Awards from the International Council of Shopping Centres.
Southwest currently operates a large portfolio of commercial buildings, apartments and condos. One of the company’s key strategies is building for itself. Southwest puts a lot of work into its buildings so that down the road the company isn’t spending money on upkeep and repairs, Laing said.
In 2012, Southwest opened the Grainery Lofts The Grainery Lofts in Halifax’s South End, the first privately developed, multi-unit residential LEED development east of Montreal. The lofts include low-emission materials and heat-recovery ventilation.
The firm is now focused on several ambitious projects. One is a 16-storey tower on the Halifax waterfront that will feature tiers, ensuring the structure doesn’t interfere with the waterfront view plane and meets the city height restriction for buildings. The 320,000 sq ft. complex will hold 285 residential units, 20,000 sq. ft. of retail and 14,000 sq. ft. of office space.
Work is expected to get underway in April 2014.
On nearby Hollis Street, in downtown Halifax, Southwest plans to tear down its Bank of Canada building in the fall and erect a 21-storey edifice, featuring 280,000 square feet of space and 270 residential units. Laing believes the tower will appeal to young professionals who want to walk to work and be near the city’s entertainment district.

Motherhouse motherlode of projects
Both of those are small potatoes compared to the 63-acre Motherhouse Lands Motherhouse Lands purchased from the Sisters of Charity. Work is expected to start in 2014 on the 10-year project, which Southwest anticipates would see 17 to 18 multi-family buildings ringed with single-family housing.
The development will also include restaurants and retail as well as a transit hub. Southwest expects 4,000 people to eventually live in the new urbanist-style area located off the Bedford Highway overlooking the Bedford Basin.
Laing conceded it’s not easy developing in Halifax, but unlike some developers who would rather skip the city in favour of places like Moncton, where developments are easier to green-light, Laing relishes the challenges of working in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
“One of the things we do is bring the city in early on the planning process and try to understand what issues they may have and solve them before we go through the formal process. That helps us,” Laing said.

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