Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New hotel, café in Exchange set to open

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The 67-room, limited service hotel on Waterfront Drive will be ready to take room bookings on Dec. 15.

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The 67-room, limited service hotel on Waterfront Drive will be ready to take room bookings on Dec. 15.

THE Exchange District is getting a new hotel and restaurant, just in time for Christmas.

The 67-room, limited service hotel on Waterfront Drive -- the Mere Hotel -- will be ready to take room bookings on Dec. 15.

The new boutique hotel will feature king-size beds, geothermal heating and cooling and some leading-edge design courtesy of David Penner Architect.

The hotel itself will not have any food and beverage services, but as part of the same development a new, fully licensed café, called Cibo Waterfront Café, will open simultaneously with the hotel in the old harbourmaster building on the edge of the river behind the hotel.

The hotel and restaurant were developed by a partnership led by Sunstone Resorts, the development company responsible for more than 140 condos across the street on Waterfront Drive. Sparrow Hotels, the owners and operators of the Inn at the Forks and the Norwood Hotel, is a partner in the project and will manage the hotel.

The restaurant will be managed by Eatz Enterprise, the organization that operates Moxie's and Shark Club and other restaurant locations.

Bill Coady, CEO of Sunstone Resort Communities, said his company's experience in developing and managing 140 condominiums in the Sky Waterfront projects on the west side of Waterfront Drive made them confident a boutique hotel and restaurant project on that site would be a winner.

"Our condo customers have been asking us for some time about what's going on with the lot across the street, not because they did not like living there or were unsatisfied with the product, just that they were keen to know what's coming next," he said.

Ben Sparrow, of Sparrow Hotels, said the Mere Hotel is the project they'd been looking to be involved in for some time.

"We've wanted to do a hotel project in the Exchange District for eight years," Sparrow said. "We finally were able to find a project that works."

The nine-year-old Inn at the Forks hotel has the highest average room rate in the city and Sparrow said that hotel is so busy they were at risk of losing market share if they didn't come up with more supply.

They already can't accommodate all the demand at the Inn at the Forks from Mondays to Wednesdays. (Rates at the Mere Hotel will be between $139 and $199, compared with $159 to $249 at the Inn at the Forks.)

The opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights next year is expected to ramp up demand in the area and Sparrow's company has the food services contract at the CMHR. He said there is some confidence there will be interest in the new hotel.

Coady said the plan always was to have the restaurant completely separate from the hotel.

"The hotel is a limited service property -- a luxury brand but limited service," Coady said. "By calling it the Mere Hotel, we want people to... as intuitively as possible, not expect a conference centre, swimming pool, ballroom and all that... it is just not that kind of place."

On the other hand, the restaurant will not have a luxury atmosphere but a decidedly local feel to it. It will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and will service takeout and pickup service for hotel guests.

The featured design flare on the $11-million hotel property are the colourful vertical aluminium bars cladding the hotel.

Architect David Penner said the bars function on a few different levels.

"On the one hand, the bars serve a privacy device, because the building is relatively close to the street," said Penner. "Also, we were trying to do something to suggest that the hotel was an extension of the park. (The hotel is immediately north of Stephen Juba Park.) We took the colours from trees and leaves and apply them to trunk-like pipes. In a very abstract way it's not unlike looking at a forest."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2013 B6

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