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A much bigger place to gather

Victoria Inn's meeting space to be expanded

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The Victoria Inn Hotel and Convention Centre on Wellington Avenue is about to get a 22,000-square-foot addition to its meeting and convention space.

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The Victoria Inn Hotel and Convention Centre on Wellington Avenue is about to get a 22,000-square-foot addition to its meeting and convention space.

One of the city's largest "meeting" hotels is about to get bigger.

Work will begin within the next couple of weeks on a 22,000-square-foot addition to the Victoria Inn Hotel and Convention Centre on Wellington Avenue.

The multimillion-dollar project -- the owners aren't revealing the exact cost -- will give the hotel 44,000-square feet of meeting/convention space and the capacity to handle banquets of up to 2,500 people. That's up from the current 33,000 square feet of meeting/convention space and a banquet capacity of about 1,140 people.

The expansion will solidify the hotel's standing as the second-largest meeting hotel in the city after the downtown Fort Garry Hotel, Spa and Convention Centre. The Fort Garry boasts a total of 54,000 square feet of meeting/convention space since taking over 35,000 square feet of space in the neighbouring Fort Garry Place complex in 2009.

"But they (the Victoria Inn) are going to have the largest (hotel) ballroom," said Tourism Winnipeg's senior vice-president Chantal Sturk-Nadeau, "and that is what a lot of clients are looking for."

Sturk-Nadeau said trade-show organizers prefer to stage their events in a single room. And the expanded Victoria Inn ballroom also will be unobstructed, or pillarless, space, she added.

'This now allows us to grow with them and to also go out and attract more events'

-- Victoria Inn general manager Mike Roziere

Sturk-Nadeau and RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg general manager Klaus Lahr both predicted the Victoria Inn expansion won't have a negative impact on the convention centre, which is in the midst of a major expansion project of its own.

"They (the Victoria Inn) have their own unique market," Lahr said. "The market they are occupying is more the budget-conscious (trade show and meetings) market."

He and Sturk-Nadeau also noted local hotels tend to go after local meetings, trade shows and conventions, while the convention centre's primary targets are national and international conventions.

Sturk-Nadeau said one of the side benefits of the Victoria Inn expansion is it will give Winnipeg a large exhibit space outside of the downtown area.

"Most major (Canadian) cities have a second large exhibit space," she said. "We were the only one that didn't."

The latest expansion/renovation project is the second one the 49-year-old Wellington Avenue facility has undergone since Brandon-based Genesis Hospitality Inc. acquired it from Winnipeg's Spivak family in 2001. The first project cost more than $10 million and was completed over a roughly four-year period, ending in 2007.

Genesis president Kevin Swark said the latest expansion will enable the hotel to take advantage of a growing demand for more space from some of the hotel's largest meeting and convention customers.

"It's really targeted at our existing events, because they're at the point where they want to increase the size of their trade shows," he explained. "And we'll be able to accommodate them now."

"This now allows us to grow with them and to also go out and attract more events," added the hotel's general manager, Mike Roziere.

Roziere said adding a new foyer area and entrance at the rear of the hotel, and adjacent to the expanded ballroom, will also make it easier to stage larger banquets.

"When you're going to have 2,000 people walking in for dinner, you need an area where they can go until they enter the ballroom," he noted.

Bigger events will also require more parking spaces.

So with that in mind, Genesis purchased three industrial buildings immediately east and south of the hotel.

The buildings have since been demolished and the properties converted into surface parking lots with about 300 stalls. That will boost the number of on-site parking stalls to about 1,000, Roziere added.

Sturk-Nadeau said the abundance of free, on-site parking space will also appeal to meeting planners and delegates.

She and Roziere said other nearby hotels could also benefit from the Victoria Inn's expansion, because they could get some of the overflow convention delegates the Victoria Inn, with its 260 guest rooms, can't accommodate.

They said many area hotels are experiencing lower occupancy rates because of the spate of new hotels that have opened in the last couple of years.

Sturk-Nadeau said that has boosted the area's inventory of hotel rooms by about 17 per cent.

"But there hasn't been a similar increase in demand to match it," she added.

"Hopefully this will help them to fill some of their rooms."

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 1, 2013 B8

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