By GRAHAM HICKS
Before Christmas, a public relations company invited a bunch of movers and shakers to the Edmonton Convention Centre.
On behalf of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), the PR folks floated a “what if” trial balloon. How about a new, convention-oriented hotel on the Convention Centre’s west side, glued on the existing building as to insulate conventioneers from -25C daytime highs?
An intriguing notion – but not for 20 or 30 years.
In fact, it’s blatantly obvious why such a hotel is not currently needed.
Between now and 2021, four brand-new ritzy hotels will open in the downtown – expanding the number of quality hotel rooms within walking distance of the Convention Centre by over one-third, from 2,400 to 3,800.
The very classy JW Marriott Edmonton ICE District (350 rooms) is two months away from opening its doors.
Construction will soon start on the 80-story Alldritt Tower, to overlook the river valley just 100 metres east of the Convention Centre. The mixed-use tower will include a 300-room hotel. An enclosed walkway between the hotel and the Convention Centre is a given.
At Jasper and 103 Street, the needle-nosed former Enbridge Tower will be converted into a 300-room Hyatt Place/Hyatt House hotel.
An Alt Hotel – the “no-frills-chic” hotel chain expanding across Canada – will add another 150 rooms in a new tower proposed on 104 Street close to Jasper Avenue.
The beautiful all-glass hotel on Jasper Avenue at 95 Street is being re-booted and re-branded as the downtown Doubletree. Owner Prem Singhmar and the Alberta Health Service Public Health Branch appear to have settled their differences, effectively opening up another 250 rooms for convention goers.
A domino effect will happen. The Westin, bleeding top-end guests to the JW Marriott, will likely double-down on wooing Convention Centre delegates to fill its 400-plus rooms.
For decades, city hall has delayed the extension of the downtown pedway system eastward, i.e. an underground walkway from the Westin to the Convention Centre with a link to the Hotel Mac. If the Westin morphs into more of a convention hotel, the project could yet rise from the dead.
Are there positive arguments for the EEDC – running the Convention Centre on behalf of the city – to pursue partners to build an on-site Convention Centre hotel?
Perhaps market demand.
Demand for high-end downtown Edmonton hotel rooms is actually growing, says David Keam of Edmonton-based PHM+C Hotel Consulting.
“Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the local economy, demand for downtown hotel rooms was up 2.6% over 2017,” says Keam. “One survey showed the average occupancy rate for six major downtown hotels in 2018 was 68%.”
In the hotel business as a rule of thumb, anything over 65% year-round occupancy adds gravy to the bottom line.
Not having to walk outside is at the crux of any Convention Centre hotel proposal. Direct indoor access from a hotel to the Convention Centre would be a strong selling point to convention organizers.
But if this proposal – a new convention centre hotel – becomes serious, the wrath of existing hoteliers will be loud and shrill. Wasn’t the Convention Centre built to help fill up downtown hotels, not compete for guests?
Local citizens would be equally upset if a new Convention Centre hotel, as happened with construction of its Hall D, again deliberately blocks the river valley view.
I could see a new convention centre hotel … if prosperity ever returns to our city, the population grows, and the downtown thrives.
That time is decades away, when today’s babies will be the new millennials.
“If the Alldritt Tower is going to happen, that’s your convention hotel,” says veteran city commercial realtor Terry Kilburn.
“Let’s get our economy straightened around and get a few pipelines built before we start thinking about yet another convention hotel.”