When real estate companies refer to a “flagship,” they generally are talking about the prized property in their portfolio.
Not so Skyline International Development Inc. The Toronto-based hospitality and resort operator last fall announced that it had purchased the last surviving Great Lakes steamship, the S.S. Keewatin. The ship spent 60 seasons ferrying passengers from Port McNicoll on Georgian Bay, to Port Arthur (Thunder Bay) on Lake Superior and has been rusting away in a U.S. river for years.
Skyline is not getting into the cruise line business, and certainly not with a ship built a few years prior to the launch of the RMS Titanic (though it does share features of the doomed ocean liner such as a grand staircase, Edwardian dining saloon and hand painted Italian glass and oak trim).
Skyline’s plans for the 350-foot long Keewatin are to make it a floating attraction at its original home at Port McNicoll, Ont., which is the site of the real estate company’s ambitious development site on the shores of Georgian Bay.
Big Plans on the Waterfront
The Port McNicoll lands, which include 825 acres of waterfront property with 11 kilometres of shoreline, are the subject of ambitious plans from Skyline that could ultimately mean a $1-billion development – including a 160-unit hotel, the planned sale of 526 multi-family, town home and single family residential units and the sale of more than 100 service lots.
“Our vision is to bring the Keewatin back this June,” said Michael Sneyd, Skyline’s Chief Executive. The ship will operate as a floating maritime museum in a new waterfront park in Port McNicoll.
“We are going to use all of our PR and marketing abilities to create a big splash because we see Port McNicoll as a great opportunity for future development and future hospitality,” said Sneyd.
Short-term plans include the construction of a marina, yacht club and the sale of 140 residential lots. “We have already sold our first phase, beautiful homes all along the harbor,” he said.
“It is a huge, long term project” that could take up to 20 years to complete, he added. “We see bringing the Keewatin and building the yacht club as the spark to allow the rest to happen over a longer period of time.”
Resorts Close to Towns and Cities
While there is not much at the Port McNicoll site currently, it does fit in with Skyline’s strategy of purchasing properties close to established population centers. “One of the problems of locating a resort on the far side of Lake Muskoka or Lake Joseph is that you are far away from any of the municipal activities. It’s far to go to get groceries, go to a movie or play. Port McNicoll is right beside Midland.”
The same thinking was behind Skyline’s acquisition of the Deerhurst resort, adjacent to the town of Huntsville and its Horseshoe ski resort is situated in between Barrie and Orillia. “We pick our properties carefully,” said Sneyd.
Skyline sees a demographic bonanza in Ontario. More than a third of the province’s population will reach retirement age in the next five years as the boomers age and have more time and money to spend on leisure activities and the GTA to the south of its properties continues to swell in population.
While its Horseshoe and Deerhurst properties are more mature, Skyline has further development plans in the works for those properties situated within a short drive north from Toronto.
At Horseshoe, plans include the creation of a resort village and the renovation of an existing condominium building.
At Deerhurst, the company is in the midst of selling condo units and building cottages on serviced lots on the Deerhurst Highlands golf course. The long-term opportunity for Deerhurst is represented by a 700-acre land bank which could include the development of more than 1,500 residential units.