Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Downtown to get new digs

Boutique hotel part of development to open across from the MTS Centre

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A Quebec-based boutique hotel chain, called Groupe Germain, is about to add lustre to Winnipeg's hipster credibility by building a boutique hotel across from the MTS Centre.

Details of the hotel and mixed-used commercial development are expected to be unveiled at a press conference next Tuesday.

But sources close to the project have confirmed the Germain family of Montreal and Quebec City will build what will be their eighth boutique hotel in the country.

Hugo Germaine, the company's director of development, deferred comments to officials at CentreVenture Development Corp., but said they have been looking for an opportunity to build in Winnipeg for the past four or five years.

"We have been there frequently," Germain said. "It is a good city and you have the momentum going with the NHL now."

The company already has one property adjacent to a big-league sports complex -- the Hotel Le Germain Maple Leaf Square -- which is steps from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

The hotel will be part of a mixed-use development that Longboat Development Corp. -- the Chipman family-owned real estate development firm -- has had in the works for several years.

It will be built on a portion of the one-square block bordered by Portage and Ellice avenues and Donald and Hargrave streets.

Longboat already owns three properties on the block: the Wild Planet building on Donald, the Alabama retail strip on Ellice and the Norlyn office building on Hargrave.

Jeoff Chipman, president of Longboat, also declined to comment on the development, saying there would be an announcement next Tuesday.

CentreVenture and the Forks-North Portage Partnership own two Portage properties they intend to sell to Longboat at fair market value: the MTS Exhibition Centre (formerly A & B Sound) and the Mitchell-Copp Building, directly west of it.

CentreVenture CEO Ross McGowan confirmed last month the Longboat project is expected to include an office/retail complex, a boutique hotel and a 400- to 450-stall parkade.

One source said the plan calls for the hotel to be built on top of the office/retail complex, but that was not confirmed.

That source said the office/retail complex will be five stories high, with about 20,000 square feet per floor. The bulk of the space -- as much as 80,000 to 90,000 square feet -- is expected to be office space, and the remainder would be retail or restaurant space.

McGowan agreed Germain was the hotel operator involved in the development, but would not share details, saying the city will have to wait until next week to see what it will look like.

"It's going to be a tremendous addition to the city," he said of the development plans. "We are seeing for the very first time in a long, long time (a development that) is all private investment. That is the key to revitalization. We move from pure public to pure private sector."

He acknowledged it has been a long time in coming.

"That is why we are so excited about it," he said.

Le Hotel Germain owns and operates five boutique hotels in Canada -- two in Toronto and one each in Montreal, Quebec City and Calgary.

The family also owns and operates two ALT Hotels in Montreal and Quebec City with another under construction near the Pearson Airport in Toronto.

ALT Hotels are lowered-priced than the high-end Le Hotel Germain, but feature stylish and trendy appointments that blend comfort, intelligent design and an innovative concept.

The hotels range in size from 60 to 167 rooms. The size of the Winnipeg property is not known at this time.

It's also not known if an ALT or a Germain hotel will be built in Winnipeg.

The company says on its website it locates its hotels in central locations that are close to restaurants, entertainment and financial districts. That way, they appeal to both leisure and business travellers. It says they try to distinguish themselves through "luxurious yet refined design and services."

Manitoba Hotel Association CEO Jim Baker said Le Hotel Germain would be a good fit for downtown Winnipeg.

Baker said downtown officials have said they want more brand-name hotels in Winnipeg and Germain is a recognized brand in Canada.

"It would add to Winnipeg's image as a thoroughly modern Milly," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2011 B9

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