Another sign of times

Business New hotel coming to west Saint John is another indication of city's bright future

SAINT JOHN - On a lot behind the Burger King on the west side, a sign has been erected trumpeting a new Motel 6 hotel. The 83-room, four-storey building is the latest hotel to announce that it's coming to the Port City.


Tammy LeBlanc, general manager of the Hilton Saint John, said having another hotel being built in the city is good news.


Noel Chenier/Telegraph-JournalCouncillor Bill Farren is happy that his west side ward is attracting big business.

In recent years, the Amsterdam Inn in Quispamsis, Hampton Inn and the Best Western on the east side have opened. The Chateau Saint John is under construction and scheduled to open in August on Rockland Road.

With workers from Canaport LNG and Point Lepreau, and the pipeline filling many of the hotels in the city, more hotels are welcome news for businesses and travellers alike.

The new Motel 6 will bring the approximate number of hotel rooms in the city more than 1,700. After 20 years of no new hotel construction, the recent flurry of activity points to something other than tourists needing a place to lay their heads.

Byron Martin, regional director of franchise development with Toronto-based Realstar Hospitality, said investors tell him they have a pot of gold and ask where it should be put, lately he's been directing them to Saint John. Realstar did the groundwork for the Motel 6 and is currently negotiating with a number of potential franchisees.

"We believe that New Brunswick generally, and Saint John specifically, is an excellent investment opportunity for someone," Martin said.

Martin said ongoing and future projects show that Saint John and Atlantic Canada are bright spots in an otherwise gloomy economy.

"This is going to be a very stable market for a very long time and now it's a function of getting people to agree with you," Martin said.

Currently, the refurbishment at Point Lepreau, Canaport, the pipeline and the promise of a second refinery are the main factors putting a twinkle in the eyes of investors.

"It's not a flavour of the week," Martin said.

Saint John and the province, he said, have a bright future - brighter than many other parts of the country and the continent.

The Motel 6 will be located at the corner of Catherwood Street and Fairville Boulevard.

After years of retail development hopes being raised and dashed, the west side is quickly becoming a hotbed and stealing some of the thunder from the east side.

"We're excited," said Owen Boyle, president of the Saint John West Business Association.

"Everything is starting to take place and we're encouraged that others will follow," Boyle said.

Coun. Bill Farren agreed.

"We're starting to see development on the west side," Farren said.

The new Sobeys, the multi-million dollar renovation to Lancaster Mall and the Plaza Corp strip mall along the Golden Mile is spurring on a retail revival on the west side. Canadian Tire is also slated to build a new store, but Farren said he's still waiting for a firm date to be set when construction will begin.

At the end of May, Enterprise Saint John will host a forum for businesses currently located on the west side, potential businesses and residents.

"It's all created a buzz and things are starting to go on the boulevard," Farren said.

Another aspect that puts Saint John and the province high on Martin's list is the well-trained, well-educated, and largely bilingual workforce.

"You've got really smart people down there," Martin said. "A well-hidden fact, I think anyway."

Meanwhile, Tammy LeBlanc, general manager of the Hilton Saint John, said available rooms in the city grew by 14 per cent last year, but it drove the vacancy rate down slightly to just under 59 per cent.

Even though it drove down the numbers, LeBlanc said the new hotels are welcome.

"The development was stagnate for many years," LeBlanc said.

Mike Moore, the general manager of the Holiday Inn Express, said the new rooms took away from the already established hotels, but he said they grin and bear it because of the long-term benefit to the city.

"The more quality new rooms we have in the market, the more the city can sell itself," Moore said.

"It's the chicken and the egg thing," Moore said.

If you don't have the rooms available, you can't attract the business.

Hotel guests, LeBlanc said, pump some $240 million yearly into the city's economy.

Corporate travellers are keeping the lights burning at area hotels and the reason that more are being turned on.

But, LeBlanc said, it's not travelling salesmen passing through. The corporate guests are here because of the growing economic boom.

"They're coming here to particularly work on projects," LeBlanc said.

"We're seen as a hotel that is performing very well and we're one of the few in our region," LeBlanc said.

That region includes 20 Hilton properties - east of Toronto and includes the northern U.S. states.

"We are somewhat in a bubble because of all these projects," she said.

For Ottawa boy Martin, he fell in love with the province 20 years ago during a business trip and during another life. On the road, he pulled into Woodstock and called his wife using a clunky old cell bag phone - he'd found the place the couple should retire.

Plans, though, have changed.

"My wife had different ideas," Martin said, adding they still travel to Woodstock once or twice a year to drink in the beauty of the place and its people.

"New Brunswick in general, Saint John specifically, is the best kept secret in Canada."

While other cities large and small struggle in the midst of a crumbling economy, Saint John is holding its own and even thriving. The positives, Martin said, are all around.

"You should be walking around with your heads held high," Martin said.

Published Monday May 4th, 2009 - Telegraph Journal