By Loreth Beswetherick
One local hotel is not worrying about maximizing occupancy rates for the peak New Years’ period — that’s because there aren’t any rooms ready yet.
The four-star, 419-room Westin Resort and Spa, rising out of the old water slides site at the base of Whistler Mountain, was initially slated for a New Year’s Eve 1999 opening but, due to construction delays, the $100 million hotel will now open in two phases next spring. The slopeside, or east wing, will be ready March 1 with 165 suites available, while the west wing is slated for an April or May opening.
"Six months ago we would have looked at it and easily said we would be ready by Dec. 18 but that has changed," said Monica Hayes, public relations and advertising manager for the Whistler Westin.
Heather Farris, director of sales and marketing for the Westin said it was not the intention to stagger the opening but the entire hotel will not be ready come March 1. She said, however, all the public space will be complete, including conference facilities and the retail component. She said from a guest’s perspective, the hotel will appear fully operational and there will be no visible signs of construction.
Farris said the Westin has actively been marketing the accommodation for the last eight months and she expects strong business in March. "We don’t want to put a percentage on it. Every day we are building our occupancy for that March and April time period."
There are still about 70 unsold strata units in the hotel, while the commercial component is 85 per cent leased. John Kuharchuk, vice president of development and marketing for Cressey, the developers of the Westin, said the units currently range in price upwards from the low $200,000s to about $400,000. He said early interest in Westin units came from the regional British Columbian market.
"But over the last year we have certainly seen much more interest from the international market, not just the American market," said Kuharchuk. "We have both European and Asian interest and, not particularly ethnic Asian, but buyers who may be expatriates residing overseas. We really have quite an interesting mix including people from places like Vermont, New York, Florida, Texas, London, Germany and Switzerland."
In terms of the zoning, the Westin is permitted to operate up to 50 units as timeshare operations. Kuharchuk said, to date, 20 suites have been acquired by timeshare companies. He said he could not disclose at this point what tenants will be occupying the retail space.
The area initially planned for a pub and restaurant is now being leased as retail. The Westin applied for a Class A licence to run an establishment along the lines of the Dubh Linn Gate but was denied endorsement by Whistler council. The Westin will still, however, have a restaurant and licensed lounge area run by the hotel. "Our application was for another independent operation, something all the hotels have, but at this point, we have been denied that opportunity by council."
Kuharchuck added the group does have some "outstanding" tenancies he will be in a position to announce some time in mid December.
Kuharchuck said Cressey has always anticipated a spring 2000 opening but had hoped to expedite aspects of construction and perhaps open sooner. "We were simply trying to move things forward if we could. But, we are finding it is a very large project — we have 380,000 square feet — and we weren’t able to get everything as far along as we wanted. That was an accelerated program," he said. "We always set optimistic targets. A project of this size is challenging in its own right and, when it is in Whistler, there is no question it adds another complexity to it."
Kuharchuk said March and April or May are now the targets but it is possible portions of the project will be completed sooner. "We are commissioning rooms already so furniture is being moved in... so we are that far along."
On-site operations manager Don Shindle said the March opening is still an excellent timetable considering the sheer size of the development. He said disclosure statements in fact give the developer until June for completion. He added the Westin is the single largest hotel to be built in Whistler. Even though the Chateau is bigger, it was done in two steps.
The Chateau Whistler went from 342 to more than 560 rooms with its recent expansion.
The Westin site was the last undeveloped parcel of land in the original village. Cressey bought the site with zoning and massing in place from Trion International in 1996.
The Westin has 104 hotels in 23 countries around the world. The intent is for the Westin to use that network and its sales team to bring customers form major cities, or ‘feeder’ markets from around the globe. The Whistler Westin is only the second strata-titled hotel for the Westin group, after the 207 Westin Grand in Vancouver.