Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lakeview opens Grand boutique hotel next to the airport

'Exactly what we were looking for'

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Seating in the lobby shows a view of the airport.

When the Lakeview group acquired the rights to build a new hotel across the entranceway from Winnipeg's stylish new airport terminal, the edict came down from above that the hotel would have to meet some pretty strict style and service requirements.

Keith Levit, the president of Lakeview Hospitality, the owner of the Grand Winnipeg Airport Hotel by Lakeview, believes they have hit all the marks.

The $23-million, six-storey, 101-room luxury boutique hotel has its grand opening today but guests have already been staying at the hotel since late April and giving it rave reviews.

The hotel features all sorts of understated design features -- including a different photographic mural in every room by Levit himself, an acclaimed photographer -- and high-tech innovations and Winnipeg firsts such as an iPad in every room and complimentary Netflix.

In half the rooms, hotel guests get a dramatic view of takeoffs and landings on the south runways of Richardson International Airport through amazingly soundproof floor-to-ceiling windows.

A first-of-its-kind automated Starbucks barista sits in the lobby, and Keurig coffee machines are in all the rooms.

The top-notch Blue Marble Restaurant and Lounge features its own herb and micro-greens cultivator, and each menu selection includes locally grown Manitoba produce.

Hotel manager John Pisker -- who also runs the 149-room Sheraton Four Points next door -- said it is designed to be a Winnipeg destination restaurant, not just a hotel amenity. Local guests receive parking validation so don't need to worry about expensive airport parking rates.

"Barry (Rempel, CEO of the Winnipeg Airports Authority) said he did not want a Motel 6," said Levit. "It had to be a high-end hotel."

Levit consulted the people at the Hyatt and Westin groups, but they were not interested.

"They said first of all, Winnipeg is a challenge and secondly, we need to have more than 130 rooms," said Levit.

The Grand's 101 rooms are about as big as the property footprint would allow.

"Then we went to the chains and got these classy brochures of second-tier hotels that the chains would allow us to build here," said Levit. "But Rempel said that was not good enough."

Eventually he called Rempel and told him of his predicament. He happened to catch him at the Metropolitan Soho Hotel in downtown Toronto and Rempel said it was the kind of luxury boutique hotel he was looking for.

Levit said he looked at that property and realized he would not need any national brand affiliation. "I realized we could do this ourselves," he said.

Levit's family-owned business also owns and operates Lakeview resorts in Gimli and Hecla as well as the Sheraton Four Points next door to the Grand. It is also the management team behind Lakeview Hotel Investment Corp., which owns and operates about 20 properties across the country.

But this one is clearly a labour of love. Levit has infused a lot of personal attention in this property -- and not just his own dramatic photography throughout the hotel.

And according to Trip Advisor reviews, the travelling public is giving it an early thumbs-up.

So has the WAA's Rempel, who obviously knows a thing or two about airport hotels. "I think we have a great hotel that will provide exactly the kind of service people have been asking us for," Rempel said. "If you hit that right niche you can do very well."

For Rempel, that means an airport hotel that travelling executives can conveniently stay at and comfortably meet with clients and associates.

"This is the kind of hotel that matches the personality and character of not just the terminal but our aspirations as a community. It's exactly what we were looking for."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2014 B3


Updated on Thursday, January 9, 2014 at 6:45 AM CST: Changes headline, replaces photo, adds slideshow

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