Ascending on the Kelowna lakefront, a 24-storey hotel by Westcorp, with 17,000 square feet of convention space, was scheduled to start construction in fall 2016 | Submitted Places like Summerland and Peachland could soon have a new moniker: Boomland.
In many parts of the Thompson Okanagan region, hotels, wineries and conference centres are expanding or starting new from the ground up to accommodate an influx of corporate gatherings, businesses and people.
Building cranes swing like giant metallic birds across a landscape dotted with orchards, golf courses, lakes, ranchlands, grasslands and snowy ski resorts.
Of 33 major metropolitan areas studied across the country, Kelowna was king in population growth at 3.2 per cent in 2015 over the previous year, outstripping all the others, according to Statistics Canada.
People are cashing in on their pricey real estate in Vancouver and Toronto and joining an entrepreneurial wave in the central Okanagan, which has some of the highest rates of self-employment and small business, says Robert Fine, director of business and entrepreneurial development for the City of Kelowna.
This has given rise to a new class of business person in the Interior: the “solopreneur.” Fifty-four per cent of business licence holders in the Kelowna area fall into this category.
“Ten or 15 years ago, it would have been 60-year-olds coming here to retire. Now it’s 40-year-olds coming here with kids, so it’s a very different model,” says Fine.
Where people go, development follows.
Construction on a 24-storey waterfront hotel with convention space was scheduled to start in fall 2016 in Kelowna. The new Okanagan Centre for Innovation, replete with technology-based companies, was scheduled to open by the end of the year in the heart of downtown. The Delta hotel on the waterfront, which is the city’s largest convention hotel, is experiencing an $8 million upgrade. Its conference centre can host up to 1,500 guests in over 34,000 square feet of meeting space. An airport hotel and the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus offer meetings spaces.
Elsewhere, The Rise golf course above Okanagan Lake near Vernon, which came under new management in 2014, will have corporate space when it opens a new clubhouse in 2018. Tobiano Golf Course overlooking Kamloops Lake is building a 17-suite golf lodge so out-of-towners can stay within walking distance of the first tee.
The Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott and Cascades Casino recently opened their doors in Kamloops. Both offer space for smaller corporate gatherings, like annual general meetings or intimate gatherings with food and wine pairings, while larger events tend to gravitate toward the Coast Kamloops Hotel & Conference Centre or Thompson Rivers University.
Originally built as a movie theatre in the 1930s, the Rex has been restored as a rather unique meeting space in Kamloops with a 3,000-square-foot auditorium.
The Rise golf course above Okanagan Lake in Vernon, under new management, will have corporate space when it opens a new clubhouse in 2018 | Submitted
The really big players naturally gravitate toward the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre. With 60,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space, it bills itself as the largest trade and convention facility in the province outside of the Lower Mainland.
The Ramada and the Lakeside Resort, which is adding 70 rooms with further plans to build the world’s tallest wood tower at 22 storeys, also have facilities in Penticton for the sororities, aviation companies and other smaller outfits that want to hold conferences with a hotel attached. As part of all the moving and shaking, the Cascades Casino is scheduled to open in the South Okanagan Events Centre in 2017.
The Okanagan’s famous vineyards also seem to be booming, with two new wineries. The Indigenous World Winery was opened this summer by Westbank First Nation Chief Robert Louie and his wife, Bernice, and the new Tuscany-styled Grizzli Winery has just been opened by Taiwanese-born John Chang, who founded the Lulu Island Winery in Richmond, B.C. With outdoor gardens, ample parking and a 150-seat restaurant offering indoor and outdoor seating, Chang is hoping to attract corporate events among other activities.
The expansion of wine country is a key economic driver in the region, says Colleen Pennington, economic development officer for Penticton.
“There’s no question people are looking to wine country as a destination more and more. It has clearly changed the way the area operates.” Guest blog courtesy of Business in Vancouver: By Yvonne Zacharias Nov. 14, 2016