RIVERS — There’s a brand-new hotel chain in town.
It’s not in Brandon or Winnipeg or any other major centre you’d care to name, but in the tiny community of Rivers, population 1,257, about a half-hour drive northwest of the Wheat City.
The Blue Crescent Hotel — the first of what Steel Creek Developers, a family-owned company in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, is planning to build — isn’t located on a major highway such as the Trans-Canada with a large number of weary travellers needing a place to rest up.
In fact, after it passes through Rivers, there isn’t much else along Highway 25.
What Rivers does have going for it is a fairly new arena complex that hosts numerous curling and hockey tournaments in winter, and in summer the town hosts baseball tournaments.
So described Steel Creek’s vice-president of sales and marketing Trevor Rempel as staff hurried about, putting up the finishing touches on the hotel that had its soft opening on Friday.
Rivers is hosting the Scotties curling tournament Jan. 28 to Feb. 2.
There is also a big presence of CN Rail workers, Rempel said, while the local hospital is a rehabilitation centre for patients recovering from knee and hip surgeries whose families may need somewhere to stay while their loved ones recuperate.
A 31-room hotel in Grenfell, Sask., approximately 125 kilometres east of Regina, will be the second under the Blue Crescent brand, he said. The developers also have a 29-room hotel in Souris that goes by the name GO Souris Hotel & Murray Building Active Adult Residence.
"A lot of our clients have been asking us if they could brand the hotels that we’re putting up for them, and most brands that everybody’s familiar with generally prefer to go no smaller than 60 rooms, unless it’s a boutique hotel or something like that," Rempel explained.
"But our clients still see the value in being part of a brand network because of the recognition and the credibility that comes with that."
In addition to being on well-known hotel booking websites, the company has its own booking website (bluecrescenthotels.ca).
Rempel said the company has signed contracts for a number of other hotel properties. "So, over the next couple of years, we’ll probably be adding several more Blue Crescent properties."
While he was hesitant to name any, Rempel said they will be located in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Construction of the Rivers hotel started at the beginning of July last year in the Grandeur Housing Ltd. factory in Winkler, and 21 modules were trucked out and pieced together like a giant Lego set over a two-day period late last year.
Paving and landscaping will have to wait until spring, Rempel said.
The approximately $5-million, three-storey hotel features 30 rooms laid out in eight different configurations to accommodate the needs of families, CN work crews, sports teams and guests travelling alone or as a couple.
Many of the rooms offer a bed on one side of the washroom and either regular beds, bunk beds or pull-out couches on the other. Other rooms feature beds in separate rooms altogether or adjoining rooms.
There is also a meeting room featuring a wall where kids can practise slapshots without damaging or disturbing their neighbours, a fitness room, a wheelchair-accessible room on the main floor as well as a pet-friendly room.
The hotel also serves a continental breakfast in a room adjacent to the front desk, which is staffed 24 hours a day.
Leading a tour of one, Rempel dodged past some of the hotel’s eight staff who were busy vacuuming carpets and dusting hallways as he pointed out some of the hotel’s features, such as a room card-lock system that also controls the lights and LED lighting, both energy-saving components.
While both Souris and Grenfell have adult-living apartments attached to their hotels, Rempel said local investors didn’t have an appetite to invest double the amount of money to do that, nor was there as much need seen for adult-living units in Rivers.
That could come later on, he added.
For many small, rural communities, the one-level motels that were built around the same era are reaching the end of their useful lives, Rempel said.
"They’ve gotten to the point where they haven’t been reinvested in for upkeep and maintenance and many of them have already closed down," he said, "and the ones that are still open are probably just about to close down because people have stopped staying there."
That doesn’t necessarily mean there is no demand for accommodations, he said, "it’s just those hotels are so far gone that people can’t stay there anymore. They’d rather drive an hour to stay in a newer facility."
In Rivers’ case, the last hotel was destroyed in a fire in the 1990s.
"We’re seeing an opportunity, now, to start replacing those end-of-life motels in communities that still have those drivers (such as Rivers’ sports attractions and rail crews) with a model like this, which is still affordable for a little town."
The developers are also toying with the idea of one- or two-level motels with interior hallways for communities that cannot support hotels such as the one in Rivers, he said.
A grand opening celebration is planned for Jan. 19, starting with a ribbon-cutting at 2 p.m. followed by a public open house until 6 p.m.
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