STUDENTS from around the world could soon be calling the former Downtowner Motor Hotel their new home away from home.
The owners of Winnipeg's India Palace Restaurant -- Ashwani and Suroj Nagpal -- have purchased the former Ellice Avenue hotel-turned-hostel from the North Portage Development Corporation for about $2 million, and are spending more than a million dollars to convert it into a residence for foreign and out-of-town students.
They'll also be opening a 70-seat, internationally themed restaurant and a small cafeteria in the three-storey building, which is located on the southwest corner of Ellice Avenue and Kennedy Street. The restaurant will be open to the public, while the cafeteria will be used to feed the student residents, who will have meals included in their rent.
"The experience of our own children is the reason we're doing this," Ashwani Nagpal said in a written statement released on Friday. "They were disoriented and felt very alone when they first arrived in a new city to study. Finding accommodation, having your meals taken care of, is key to settling in to the real reason you're there -- to study and enjoy the student experience."
Winnipeg's Sovereign Construction Ltd. has been hired to oversee the conversion project, do the renovation work and act as the official spokesman for the Nagpals, said company co-owner and general manager Manny Singh.
Singh said the bulk of the interior renovations and upgrades will be completed within the next couple of months, and will cost about $500,000. The exterior renovations, which are expected to cost "a lot more than that," won't be done until the summer.
Singh said they hope to have the residence and restaurant open by mid-March.
He said they're also looking at converting the hotel's former beverage room into a small banquet facility, but he wasn't sure when that would open.
Singh said the Nagpals expect to attract students "from all over the world," as well as some from rural Manitoba and other provinces.
In the written statement, Nagpal said with Red River College's downtown campus and the University of Winnipeg close by, they're hoping to rent all 40 rooms for the full school year, and to open them up to casual visitors or summer students in the off-season.
"We would also like to serve the parents of international students by setting aside a few VIP rooms that could be used for times when they visit for extended periods," he added.
North Portage purchased the hotel in 2008 to put a stop to it selling liquor to people for off-premises consumption.
It subsequently leased the building to Hostelling International Manitoba, which converted it into a hostel and pub/bistro (the Lo Pub). When the hostel and pub closed their doors last August, the corporation put the property up for sale, with the stipulation that any new use could not include the sale of liquor for off-premises consumption.
North Portage CEO Jim August said more than a dozen parties toured the property and four submitted formal bids. The Nagpals' was the highest bid.
While "it came down to dollars and cents," August said the corporation also liked the Nagpals' plans for redeveloping the property.
He noted Red River College and Winnipeg's two universities are both trying to attract more foreign students, "and I think this will serve that demographic well."
Also, "their student-focused idea fits perfectly with the neighbourhood and with the community it is serving," he added.
Singh said the interior renovations will include redoing the lobby area, stripping paint off the original woodwork and some interior glass walls, and installing new washrooms, beds, and carpeting throughout the building. The exterior renovations will include replacing all of the windows and installing new metal cladding.