Great Wolf Lodge resort starts talks

Waterpark hotel chain negotiating with district to buy land in Squamish

A Great Wolf Lodge in Squamish could be in the works after council passed a motion Tuesday to have district staff enter into discussions around the hotel chain buying district land.

The Jim Pattison Group is proposing to build the resort at Centennial Way and Highway 99, where it already owns some land, but the company would need to acquire additional land from the province and District of Squamish.

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At the committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, council also agreed to support the proposed $150 million resort in its land negotiations with the province. Great Wolf Lodge general manager Keith Simmonds and real estate consultant Tom Munro presented more details about the proposed development to council at the meeting. The men said although other areas had been considered, Squamish is the current priority location. 

“We have done economic studies for a number of different areas – all points lead to this being a premier location for the lodge,” said Simmonds.

The resort, which would be made up of themed hotel rooms, restaurants and a 100,000-square-foot waterpark, would hire about 670 employees, including 50 for manager-level positions. 

About 70 per cent of the jobs would be part-time, while 30 per cent would be full-time, Simmonds said.

Based on its Niagara location, the Squamish lodge’s payroll would total about $14 million a year, according to Simmonds.

Students could apply to entry-level jobs in the arcade, for example, but the resort will also offer higher-paid retail and service positions and supervisor salaried positions, he said.

The company also trains and certifies dozens of lifeguards per year, Simmonds added.

Construction of the resort would take about 20 months, the company estimates.

If it proceeds, this would be the second Great Wolf Lodge in Canada; the other is in Niagara Falls, Ont. 

Based on the Niagara Falls location, an average stay is 1.6 nights and 40 per cent of guests are repeat customers, according to Great Wolf Lodge documents presented to council. 

Councillors Ted Prior and Susan Chapelle expressed environmental and accessibility concerns about the proposal. 

“My biggest concern is resource use in town,” Chapelle said. “And also building a resort that is not available to our community.”

Chapelle said the resorts are built so they are all-inclusive, so she questioned the value to the district.

Simmonds acknowledged the resorts are built as a “cruise ship on land,” but said the community would still benefit.

“We know from visual and word of mouth, from car dealerships to grocery stores and restaurants, that they see our guests throughout town, spending money,” Simmonds said.

Only hotel guests would be permitted to use the waterpark, which would use 565,000 gallons or less than Olympic-sized pool of water to fill, according to the company. The water would be recycled, and the resort will also have green initiatives including environmentally sensitive cleaning supplies and ozone technology for its laundry facility. 

Councillor Jason Blackman-Wulff cautioned the delegation about housing for employees of the lodge, given Squamish’s housing situation. 

“Studies that you have seen a few years ago may not reflect what the housing cost is right now, so some of your employees may have difficulty,” he said. 

“The wage levels will not support home ownership in purpose-built new rental buildings.”

Letters of support from Mayor of Niagara Falls James Diodati and the president of the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario Beth Potter were also included in the presentation package. 

In addition to the land sales, the project would require several district approvals before shovels go in the ground, including an Official Community Plan amendment and rezoning.

Great Wolf Lodge presenters to council Tuesday included real estate development consultant Tom Munro (left) and general manager Keith Simmonds. - Photo: Jennifer Thuncher

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