Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Local boys' plan cottages for Minaki Lodge site

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THE old Minaki Lodge site is making another comeback -- maybe.

Two Steinbach businessmen have unveiled a plan to turn the old Minaki Lodge site in northwestern Ontario into 56 apartment condo units and 96 ready-to-own cottages starting at $170,000 -- but do away with the unique nine-hole golf course built into the Canadian Shield.

Bob Banman, a former provincial cabinet minister, and Bob Schinkel, a real estate developer, have submitted their proposal to the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

It's called Minaki on the River. It's often included in the Lake of the Woods area, but it's a 45-minute drive north of Kenora and on the Winnipeg River, where it resembles a chain of lakes.

The partners, who bought the property two years ago, aren't divulging what they paid but area residents say the price tag was about $1.2 million. The partners said they have invested nearly $1 million in cleanup since taking over. The proposed development is expected to cost about $12 million.

Why are the two businessmen going where so many others have failed before? The Minaki Lodge, built by the Canadian National Railway in 1927, has earned a reputation as a white elephant. The list of owners who tried and failed to make it viable includes the Ontario government, the Four Seasons Hotel chain, White Dog First Nation, a Texas businessman, Winnipeg businessman Rod Carey and Alberta developer Philip Archer and his company, Shire International.

"We have a different business plan. The business plan other people had, they were trying to run a hotel in a remote resort location and that is a tough go," said Schinkel.

Unlike Shire International, based in Calgary, and which left many contractors in the area owed large sums of money, Schinkel and Banman are close to the area.

"We're local boys. We both have cottages on the (Lake of the Woods). We're as tied to this thing as anyone could be," said Schinkel.

The Minaki Cottagers Association said it will oppose the development. The association fears the site's sewage-treatment system -- and all the new cottages will be on a central septic system, without holding tanks -- will add to phosphate and nitrogen levels in lake waters.

Dave Hewlett, the cottagers association president, said the site's sewage-treatment plant is inadequate, employing a biological digester before running effluent back into the lake. As well, Hewlett said the site has bypass privileges, meaning it can dump raw sewage into the lake if the treatment plant malfunctions, similar to the City of Winnipeg.

Schinkel said the existing septic system has been inspected and approved by Ontario government and meets provincial standards.

Also, area residents wish the golf course could be saved. It has been closed since 2003, the same year the historic log construction, Minaki Lodge, burned down.

Hewlett called it "a travesty" to lose the famous golf course, the brainchild of famed golf course designer Stanley Thompson. An entire farm was purchased for the purpose of removing its soil for the Canadian Shield course.

Schinkel said the golf course is not viable. It was offered to the community for $1 but there were no takers. The development will take up only one of the nine holes, however, one running along the waterfront, so the course still could be salvaged by an interested party, he said.

The Ontario muncipal ministry is expected to decide on the Minaki on the River proposal within four months. Opposition would likely result in a public hearing after that.

Condos are being built into the former hotel on the Minaki Lodge site, and they will start in the $180,000 to $190,000 range.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2012 B6

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