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Marriott hotel proposal for BC Pen site in New West hits hurdles

A 68-unit hotel is proposed next to Gatehouse building on Sapperton site

A Marriott hotel proposal for the former BC Penitentiary site in New Westminster has hit some hurdles.

Governors’ Court Holdings Inc. wants to build a three-storey, 68-unit Marriott Hotel – branded as the Heritage Hotel – next to the 1901 gatehouse building at 319 Governors Ct. The proposal would see the heritage building retained and preserved, with the new building being constructed on its surface parking lot.

“It has a lot of history to it. … When I read all that history and I saw this building – it is one of the most beautiful buildings in the Lower Mainland. That attracted me to this. It is a beautiful project,” said project manager Vikram Bajwa. “We have done hotels in California. We have done Marriotts in California – in Sonoma and in Napa. That’s why I got attracted to it.”

Having built hotels in Santa Barbara, Napa and Sonoma, Bajwa said he’s keen to build a hotel in New Westminster. He believes the proposed Heritage Hotel would “add flavour” to the city.

“There is a dire need,” he said.

Bajwa said his family purchased the property in September 2021. He said the company has consulted with representatives from Marriott International and the City of New Westminster about the proposal.

The proposal would see hotel rooms being provided in the new building, and amenities for hotel guests, such as the Gatehouse Grill restaurant, sauna, massage and a fitness centre, offered in the historic gatehouse building.

While the proposal initially contemplated a restaurant called the Heritage Grill, Bajwa soon learned that name had been used for a popular local establishment that was destroyed by fire last year. The proposed restaurant has since been renamed as the Gatehouse Grill.

Bajwa told the Record an architect with KMBR Architects Planners has been in contact with planners at the City of New Westminster about the proposal. (KMBR Architects Planners designed the new New Westminster Secondary School.)

Jackie Teed, the city’s senior manager of climate action, planning and development, said the city has received inquiries about this site over the years but hasn’t received a formal application to date. She said an application would only become public once it goes to the city’s land use and planning committee or city council.

“The property is currently zoned C2, which includes hotel as a permitted use,” she said in an email to the Record. “The city is interested in seeing additional hotel units in the city, particularly around Royal Columbian Hospital and Downtown, to support those with family members at the hospital, tourism, and economic development.”

In a recent interview with the Daily Hive, Bajwa said it was hoped construction could begin next year and the project would be complete in April 2024.

“Review timelines depend on a number of things, like type of application, complexity of project, number of other projects under review, etc.,” Teed said, when asked about that timeline. “As the city has no formal application for this site, we cannot speculate on timeline.”

Project delays

Aside from the regular regulatory processes that developments must go through, the project has encountered delays because of legal issues related to the sale of the property, said Bajwa.

According to Bajwa, his company’s lawyers have advised them not to pursue the project until an investigation by the BC Financial Services Authority is completed.

While that investigation has stalled plans on the proposal, Bajwa is hopeful it will eventually proceed.

“We will fight tooth and nail on this project,” he said.

Another issue that needs to be overcome before the project proceeds is confirming whether bodies of prisoners from the BC Penitentiary were buried on the site. The BC Pen operated on the property from the 1800s until 1980, with most of the buildings later being destroyed and the site redeveloped as the Fraserview lands.

“It has history, it has everything,” Bajwa said. “We just want to be safe. If you find even one body there, they will stop the entire project.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus