ST. STEPHEN – It’s been a long road for Tom McFarlane. The entrepreneur and businessman saw an opportunity in St. Stephen, a need unfilled, several years ago. The gap in the market he identified as far back as 2012? St. Stephen is missing a critical puzzle piece for tourism and expansion; a hotel.
And McFarlane has spent years working to fill that prolific gap in the St. Stephen market. He was almost there in 2020, when, as happened to so many larger scale projects around the world, the global pandemic once again put his plans on hold.
But with 2021 and a Path to Green in New Brunswick, those plans, which have been through more versions than McFarlane cares to mention, are back on, and he is not only ready to move forward, that move is happening immediately.
“Construction will begin on Monday, July 5,” said McFarlane.
“We are anticipating a 12 month construction,” he added. “Looking to open the property by July 1, of 2022.”
McFarlane lists a host of issues with investors over the years, and the volatility COVID-19 brought to the tourism industry and market as the most substantial factors to slow progress, particularly over the last couple of years.
In a presentation to the St. Stephen town council on Wednesday, June 30, McFarlane said as he was on the brink of finally breaking ground in 2020, COVID-19 caused an exodus of those willing to invest in a hotel in rural New Brunswick.
“You know, our logo for St. Stephen is ‘the middle of everywhere’,” said McFarlane, “but, you want to talk to financiers about trying to fund a $20 million hotel project in St. Stephen, New Brunswick; Charlotte County we all agree is the best place in the world, but when they’re sitting at their desk in Montreal and Toronto, that’s where we get push-back.”
But as 2021 crept in, McFarlane once again saw potential investors come forward, and after years of “committed/pulled back, committed/pulled back” as he described it, funding has been secured, and the Best Western Plus St. Stephen Hotel & Suites is “committed”.
The hotel will offer four floors of rooms, but with a unique twist. And it’s in fact the twist he claims finally secured the funding.
The hotel will boast 63 rooms in total. 35 will be the normal, rent for the night or two type affairs, but the other 28 will fall on floors three and four, with each floor the home to 14 long-term stay suites. The suites will range from one to three bedroom, and will effectively be apartments with full amenities such as dishwashers and kitchens. And when he says long-term, McFarlane means it; these suites will be available from a month to five years or even more.
“Based on the new dynamic of travellers as recognized from reports by a leading hotel appraisal company HVS, we have added more long term stay units to accommodate families and larger groups of people looking for the stay vacation experience,” said McFarlane.
The hotel will also be home to an onsite spa and a restaurant, which will be open to guests and the general public. But McFarlane was adamant the restaurant will be designed to compliment existing eateries in the area, not compete with them.
“Our goal is not to compete with 5 Kings or Pizza Delight,” said McFarlane, “it’s to work with them.”
He said diners can expect to see the predictable family breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare any hotel would offer, but there will also be high-end items like top quality steaks and seafood.
“We’re going to try and create a menu that’s going to work with other establishments in the area, not compete with them.”
Outside of the construction jobs generated by building a four story hotel, when it opens, there will be a need to fill some 30 to 50 full and part-time positions; jobs which will be posted locally.
“There is no internal pool for jobs,” said Mcfarlane. “All jobs will be posted and hired based on qualifications and best fit for the position.”
The available jobs will cover a wide range, filling the needs of the hotel, Spur Line Bar and Grill, and the Salt River Spa.
“I’m looking forward to watching the progress,” said Mayor Allan MacEachern. “This has been a long journey. We certainly need a hotel.
“I’m optimistic and hopeful.”