By Keith Lacey
The fact a new hotel will soon begin construction in downtown Oliver hasn’t detracted a veteran local farmer from believing his property would best be used to build a small luxury hotel just north of Lion’s Park.
Murray Soder, 85, who owns nine acres of prime farmland just a few hundred metres north of Lion’s Park, said the opening of the Area 27 racetrack facility has convinced him the Town of Oliver would benefit from and support a luxury hotel on his property.
The plan to build the new Coast Hotel in Oliver, which is slated to begin in October and scheduled to be open for business in May of 2018, hasn’t changed his mind one iota about the best use for his property, said Soder, during an interview with the Chronicle last week.
“I think the opening of Area 27 changes everything,” said Soder. “We have all these wealthy guys coming to town every weekend to race their cars … and they have a lot of money and they need a nice place to stay. These are guys who are used to staying at the Hilton or Marriott … money is not an object. “Area 27 is going to add a whole new dimension to this end of the Valley. This is only the third Formula One racetrack of its kind in all of Canada. It changes the (economic) landscape of this entire region.”
The opening of the Okanagan Correctional Centre has also greatly improved the local economy and means many family members visiting staffers who work at the new jail will need hotel rooms when they visit Oliver, he said.
Soder remains convinced the people who own the expensive vehicles that are coming to be tested and raced at Area 27 would support a luxury hotel in Oliver. A feasibility study he helped pay for clearly identified a need for at least one hotel in Oliver – and that need will be filled by the construction of the new Coast Hotel – but Soder is convinced a second luxury hotel would also be successful because of the impact of Area 27.
Soder has a ‘For Sale’ sign on his property to sell all nine acres he owns and his neighbour to the north is also willing to sell five adjacent acres. He remains convinced a luxury hotel is still the best use for that land.
Senior management with Area 27 have made it clear that when the new clubhouse is constructed and the entire facility is completed over the next two to three years, they plan on holding major car racing events and outdoor community events that will attract thousands of people, said Soder.
“They are talking about spring and fall events that attract 5,000 to 10,000 people,” he said. Soder reiterated his belief that a luxury hotel would be the best use of his land and provide the most benefit to the Town of Oliver and its residents. “I have no need to sell, but I do think it (luxury hotel) would provide the biggest benefit to the Town,” he said.
At the last meeting of Town council in late July, council agreed to help Soder, who is in the process of getting his property (6800 block of Highway 97) “shovel ready” for future development. Soder has requested assistance in obtaining safe highway access to his property and the extension of sewer and water to the north end of the property (on the old KVR right-of-way).
“Since this will become part of the town infrastructure, I feel it qualifies for similar treatment to the Station Street to Sawmill upgrades,” Soder said. The property owner also mentioned a perennial problem with flooding due to the oxbow in Lion’s Park. “Flooding of the property was never a problem until the improvements to Lion’s Park were completed in the mid-1990s,” Soder claimed.
In discussing the matter, Councillor Larry Schwartzenberger questioned why the Town should do all of this work before knowing what the property owner was proposing to do with the land. But council agreed to undertake some of the tasks outlined in a report by consultant Tom Szalay, the Town’s former municipal manager. For example, council will meet with the Ministry of Transportation to determine its needs and discuss options for highway access.
In his report, Szalay said it is important to provide all property owners north of Lion’s Park with a reliable access and servicing plan. He noted this would give potential buyers and developers a sense of what it will take to bring the properties to their highest and best use. It will also assist current owners in negotiating land values more meaningfully, he said.
Szalay also suggested the Town explore options for Lion’s Park drainage, including full or partial restoration of the original oxbow. Coast Oliver will feature 80 bedrooms, an indoor pool, breakfast room and future restaurant.
Standards will include triple sheeting and complimentary high-speed in-room WiFi. Approximately 100 parking stalls will surround the hotel. The branding of the hotel will be done with Mundi Hotel Enterprises Inc. who purchased the lot (Centennial RV Park location) from the Town of Oliver.
The company, headed by president Ron Mundi, currently has two Coast-branded properties in Kamloops and Lethbridge, and owns five more hotels.
“We made the decision to expand our relationship with Coast Hotels as the brand flag for Oliver, given they share the same values, performance focus and community approach we do.”
Coast Hotels president Victor Komoda said the new Oliver property builds on the brand’s strength in its home province, bringing its total to 36 properties in western North America covering two provinces, two territories and five US states.
“Expanding our footprint in the popular Okanagan wine region will add value to our customer base,” said Komoda.
Oliver Town council unanimously approved the new hotel on the Centennial Park site, however, not without some backlash. At a recent public hearing, numerous people spoke against the rezoning, opposing the loss of green space and RV business. Many people said they wanted to see the hotel in a different location. However, many individuals at the hearing spoke in favour of the hotel plan in the park.