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This article was published 19/9/2018 (420 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
New ownership of the lodge at Lake Manitoba Narrows is raising hope in the area after years of controversy.
Irv Koch, former owner of Koch Stainless Steel in Winnipeg, purchased the former Narrows West Lodge in a public auction earlier this year.
"I’ve been here since the '60s and I like it up here," said Koch, a seasonal property owner at the Narrows, which is about 200 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
At 81, he’s not the typical age for taking on a busy venture like running a resort. Koch sold Koch Stainless Steel in 2014 after 44 years in business.
"I was getting kind of bored and I like a challenge, and I thought it would be fun," he said. "I’m never bored now. I feel good about trying to turn it around."
Creditors forced the public auction of the property, which was called Narrows West Lodge, in March. About 30 people turned out but Koch was the sole bidder. He bought the lodge and the surrounding seven acres for about $500,000, plus the $80,000 in tax arrears.
He has invested $150,000 in upgrades so far, and hopes to reopen the gas bar and marina by next spring. The upgrades include new flooring, carpeting, refrigeration, new TVs in the bar that is being transformed into a sports bar, a paint job, and rebuilding the crawlspace beneath the lodge.
Koch said many people have thanked him for taking over the lodge.
"People come up me and shake my hand. It makes you feel good," he said.
The new name is Narrows Sunset Lodge.
"He's doing a great job. It's nice to see," said Ron Rexer, a cottager in the area.
Rexer said the lodge was starting to get run down. Everyone knew its owners were having trouble paying the bills. The gas pumps had closed, and the convenience store shelves were low on stock. As well, the previous owner was found guilty in 2016 of failing to properly disinfect the water supply used by guests, under the Drinking Water Safety Act.
Rexer said the store is well-stocked again.
One permanent resident said the ownership change is viewed very positively by people in the area.
"Everybody seems to be going around with smiles on their faces," said the resident. "New ownership means a new start. We feel that things are going to get better."
Others echoed those sentiments but didn’t want their names used because it’s a small community and former owners Blair and Debbie Olafson are well-liked.
However, the mood in the area started to sour when their son, Chad Olafson, sold cottage lots in the area and couldn’t live up to his promises, including putting in hydroelectric power or a golf course. Olafson and his Narrows West companies faced at least 24 lawsuits as of 2016.
Many of the properties held by Chad Olafson are scheduled to come up in a tax sale in 2019.
In 2016, 61 empty cottage lots were scheduled to go to tax sale for $350,000 in property taxes arrears but Olafson struck a last-minute repayment schedule with the RM of Alonsa. However, Olafson has failed to meet the terms and the RM of Alonsa wants tax arrears to be paid in full this time.
"There are a lot of bad things that happened in the past with the cottages and people got upset and angry," said one cottager, who requested anonymity. "Now, with new ownership and management, I think with time it will turn around and it will become a very nice place for people to come back to."
The lodge includes a convenience store, liquor and beer vendor, gas station, restaurant, bar and conference centre. There is also a small campground.
Koch said the bar was recently full to watch a Winnipeg Blue Bombers game. "I'm having fun," said Koch, a lifelong Bombers fan.
The next big event is the Lake Manitoba Narrows Walleye Classic on Sept. 22, a fishing derby with as many as 200 participants. The event will include a workshop on chainsaw carving.
Bill Redekop has been covering rural issues since 2001.