Two Oakville developers are investing $4 million to gut the former Drawbridge Inn and open a four-star boutique hotel on Christina Street.
One of the principals, Gord Laschinger, was involved in a defunct deal to redevelop downtown’s Bayside Centre last year. He is no longer involved in the mall but said he is only months away from opening the new hotel venture with business partner Malvinder Singh.
The 54-year-old building requires a complete overhaul because it was somewhat neglected over the past decade and regularly ran at only 20 to 25% occupancy, Laschinger said.
“Half the population has fond memories of The Drawbridge when it was a very good hotel, but the other half may not. It had gone downhill in the last 10 years,” he said.
It’s been at least a decade since a bar, lounge, kitchen and dining room operated in the Tudor-style building. That will soon change when the new Insignia hotel opens in November.
While Drawbridge had 100 rooms, the Insignia will have 84 rooms and suites, including two large three-room family suites and nine barrier-free rooms.
The redesign includes a large new lobby and 85-seat bar on the west side of the first floor, looking out onto the St. Clair River, says general manager Kelly Steeves.
“Our emphasis will be on local with a coffee bar in the lobby featuring Blackwater beans and craft beer from Sarnia’s Refined Fool,” Steeves said.
The Insignia will be eco-friendly with an electric charging station for cars, reusable bottles for water in the rooms, recycling bins and dispensaries of shampoo in the showers.
“This will be privately-run; not a cookie-cutter hotel. We’ll offer luxurious towels and linens, complimentary high speed Wi-Fi and Smart TVs,” said Steeves.
Double queen rooms will cost $139 per night on average with lowest price guarantees for comparable rooms in the local market.
The Insignia, named by Laschinger, is affiliated with Choice Hotels’ Ascend Hotel Collection that includes properties like Hidden Valley in Huntsville. They are individually owned but share group purchasing power and a central reservation system, according to Steeves.
“The Insignia will be boutique and upscale. Gord has free rein over the design of both the hotel and the brand,” she added.
Sarnians won’t notice a dramatic change to the hotel’s exterior although the old red awnings at the Christina Street entrance are coming down to be replaced by glass doors and a canopy over the entranceway where customers can drive up for valet parking and porter services.
All rooms are being decorated in what Steeves called a “European minimalist” style, heavy on white with black and gold modern accents.
Laschinger said he and his partner considered converting the Drawbridge into a retirement facility but decided it wasn’t financially viable.
“We decided a modern hotel facility in the downtown had advantages because it provides a bigger sense of community. There’s far more potential here,” Laschinger said.
An existing fitness club is staying in the building. The new owners are looking for operators for the dining room and bar, but intend to run the bar, install a new kitchen and offer continental breakfast until restaurant operators are confirmed.
Steeves, most recently the general manager at The Sarnia Riding Club, said a job fair to hire 20 to 25 staff will likely be held in early October.
For history buffs wondering if the new owners are preserving the mysterious old well inside the hotel, be assured.
Laschinger and Steeves said they are keeping the well intact and will incorporate it into the new hotel design. It is believed to have been built by one of the area’s early European settlers.