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This article was published 2/3/2011 (3153 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
TWO businessmen are hoping to score big with the local sports crowd with a multimillion-dollar expansion and upgrade of the Howard Johnson Express Inn on west Portage Avenue.
Jason Gauthier and his nephew, Kiley Horvath, took possession of the 43-room inn earlier this week with the goal of going after the athletes and fans who flock to nearby sports facilities such as the MTS Iceplex and the John Blumberg golf, soccer and baseball complex on Portage.
They hope to attract them by spending up to half a million dollars over the next six months converting the inn's upstairs lounge into a sports lounge and adding a new neighbourhood bar in the basement.
And within the next year or two, they plan to spend up to $5 million on a four-storey addition that will add 50 to 70 rooms to the inn.
"We want to be the main place where they (athletes and fans) come and hang out after their games," Horvath said, as well as the place where out-of-town teams and athletes stay during tournaments.
Another potential gold mine for the two hoteliers is the $5-million Adrenaline Adventures recreational complex being built just outside the Perimeter Highway south of Portage Avenue. Horvath said that should draw tens of thousands of visitors to the area with its proposed wakeboarding lakes, snow-tubing hill, man-made beach and possible water park.
"We see huge growth over the next three to five years in that whole Headingley area. We're very excited about being there."
Horvath and Gauthier aren't the only ones thinking that way. Two other hotel/motel properties are being built on the south side of Portage between Winnipeg and Headingley. One is a 70-room Motel 6 budget hotel being built by a father-and-son team from Steinbach, and the other is a 110-room Best Western Hotel being developed by a group of southern Manitoba businessmen.
Horvath said he and his partner aren't worried about the competition. If anything, they see it as an affirmation they're on the right track.
Manitoba Hotel Association president and CEO Jim Baker agreed the sports complexes offer good business opportunities for hotel operators — especially those located nearby.
He said it's good to see Gauthier and Horvath, whose previous holdings include the Charleswood Motor Hotel in Winnipeg, getting back in the business.
"They've been involved in a number of hotel opportunities and they've always come out OK."
He also said it's encouraging to see them expanding and upgrading their property.
There are a number of other new hotels under construction in Winnipeg and about 1,500 new rooms have been added to the province's inventory in the last dozen or so years.
"But it's been positive because occupancy percentages and room rates have not been hurt by that. If anything, we're still experiencing modest growth."
Horvath and Gauthier purchased the Howard Johnson Express from Winnipegger Mike Sapozhnik, who also owns the Quality Inn on Pembina Highway and the Dakota Hotel on Dakota Street. He's building a 26-room Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott on Ellice Avenue near Empress Street.
Horvath said although they only kept their other hotel properties for a few years, this time they're in it for the long haul.
"This hotel is going to be our main focus. We plan to keep this one for a very, very long time."
History of hotels
THE new owners of the Howard Johnson Express Inn at 3740 Portage Ave. are no strangers to the hotel industry. Here is a list of hotel properties the two have owned:
— Pinawa Motel Inn in Pinawa, which they owned and operated for three years in the late 1990s. They sold it in 2000.
— Frantz Motor Inn in Steinbach, which they owned and operated from 2000 to 2005.
— Charleswood Motor Hotel in Winnipeg, which they owned and operated for about 18 months before selling it to Red River Co-op in late 2008.