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Downtown hotel proposal impressive

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The base of Queensway is the perfect spot for a 24-storey highrise hotel proposed for downtown, says Daily Courier reporter Ron Seymour.
Preservation of Kerry Park? Check.
Creation of an active and pedestrian-friendly waterfront? Indeed.
Hundreds of new jobs and tremendous economic spinoffs? Done and done.
With these and many other highly desirable outcomes associated with newly revealed plans for a splendid new $65-million downtown hotel at the base of Queensway, it's hard to know what critics will complain about.
But I'm sure they'll find something.
Maybe the modest height variance the developer is requesting - from 19 to 24 storeys - will become the rallying point for the doom-mongers.
Perhaps it'll be the sale and subsequent closure of Mill Street that whips the always-ready-to-be-agitated crowd into a tizzy.
But even the most determined naysayer probably won't latch onto the requested parking variance. City rules say 250 stalls have to be created in the parkade. The developer is proposing 242. Peanuts.
Really, it'll take some doing for people to stand up at public hearings later this year with a straight face and denounce plans for what is undoubtedly the most important and impressive project planned for downtown in years.
The only thing that comes close, in terms of beneficial impact, is Interior Health's plan to build a new corporate headquarters and outpatient service centre at the corner of Doyle Avenue and Ellis Street.
The unveiling of detailed plans for that project, which will become the daytime home to between 800 and 1,000 well-paid health-care workers, is expected any day now. Once it opens in a few years, the revitalizing jolt it'll give to downtown is hard to overstate.
But for now, the limelight rightly belongs to Westcorp, the Edmonton-based developer that's behind the new downtown hotel proposal.
The company has been here before, literally. Nearly a decade ago, it unveiled plans for a major downtown development on the same Queensway spot called Lawson's Landing that included several towers and a mix of hotel rooms and condos.
That eventually morphed into an ill-fated overall redevelopment scheme for a big chunk of downtown. Dozens of new towers were proposed and entirely new streets were going to be created.
It all proved too much for a good chunk of the public and the council of the day to handle, and the planning venture vaporized in 2010.
Four years later, despite its considerable size and potential impact, the new hotel proposal looks positively modest by comparison. It is, in the end, a fairly straightforward development proposal, and one that fits into the city's long-held goal of attracting a first-class hotel to the downtown core.
Any site would have been fine, but the end of Queensway makes the most sense, from practical and historical perspectives. There's been a hotel on that waterfront spot since 1928, when the original Willow Inn opened across from a ferry terminal that brought newcomers and tourists to town.
The latter-day Willow, which was in pretty rough condition for much of its later life, was knocked down five years ago, and the site has been a vacant lot since. But the site's appeal remains - its position near the water, between Kerry and Stuart parks, and in the heart of the city.
"Because of its proximity to the sweet spot of our downtown, it represents a tremendous opportunity to bring more life and activity to the waterfront, to once again provide a connection between the city and the lake," reads part of Westcorp's glossy 15-page information booklet on the hotel proposal.
It's easy to be seduced by artist renderings. Plenty of Kelowna developments that looked fine on paper have ended up being underwhelming once constructed.
But Westcorp is no stranger to the hotel business, owning and operating five in Alberta and Manitoba. Check the company's website and judge for yourself whether the design of those properties suggests a firm committed to high-quality projects.
Even beyond the skyline-changing look of the Kelowna hotel proposal, its sizable conference centre and its new retail shops along Water Street, the project's most pleasing aspect is at street level, toward the lake.
Plans show a human-sized building frontage with stone, wood and glass architectural elements, fronted by walkways, lawns, a restaurant, several patios and an outdoor fireplace.
It all seems a thoroughly appealing updating on the charms of the original Willow Inn, as described in this newspaper on March 15, 1928: "Handsome and modern hostelry displaces unsightly vacant lot."
Ron Seymour is a Daily Courier reporter whose column appears Wednesday and Friday. Telephone: 250-470-0750. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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