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St. John’s convention centre build drives hotel boom

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Pomerleau is undertaking an expansion of the St. John's Convention Centre in Newfoundland and Labrador to double the facility’s capacity, which is stimulating the construction of new hotels in the downtown core.
St. John’s convention centre build drives hotel boom

"We did a study in 2009 that showed larger national and international conventions wanted to come here," said Tom Hann, St. John's city councillor.

"But we couldn't attract them, because we couldn't accommodate them. We didn't have anything big enough. So, we decided that we needed to double the size of our convention centre and that is the decision we made."

The $64-million expansion of the St. John's Convention Centre, which began in June 2013, will increase the facility's floor space to 100,000 square feet. Currently, the centre has the capacity to host conventions of 400 to 600 people in conjunction with the Delta Hotel.

However, the facility has difficulty competing with similar sized locations in Atlantic Canada, such as Moncton, Fredericton or Charlottetown. The expansion project will provide the space to host conventions of 600 to 800 people and link the building directly to the Delta hotel.

"The increase of the space is pretty straight forward. It's the tie in and marrying with the existing building that is the challenge," said Lorin Robar, project director with Pomerleau.

"We will be taking off pretty much the whole west side of the building, where we join in. The main challenge here is to maintain the structural integrity and operational ability of the existing building."

Robar said the centre is currently open to business while formwork on the project is being completed. This was a bit challenging, because Pomerleau had issues finding good quality formwork and rebar tradespeople.

"The steel work is ongoing and we are ramping up with the glazing. As much of the actual steel framing that we can do should be complete by the end of July," said Robar.

"The project is phased, so we don't get access to the existing building until November of this year. We won't do any more steel until we get access to the building."

The next stage of the project will begin in November when the existing building is closed so the interior to be demolished. Once this is done, an internal fit-out will be undertaken of the existing building.

According to Robar, Pomerleau is using 3-D modeling to avoid potential conflicts between various trades, before they impact the schedule or increase costs.

"BIM (Building Information Modeling) helped us with interference issues and visualizing the new construction. It allowed us to see how everything was going to go together before we actually built it to make sure there weren't clashes between one trade or another," he said.

"The point of the information modeling is to avoid conflicts. By doing that before the pipe is in the air we avoid costly change orders."

Another significant challenge for the expansion project has been staging for materials and equipment.

"We took one lane of an existing street for deliveries and currently we have one lane of another street where we can lay down for the form work, which is currently being shipped out," said Robar. "It's a challenge. We keep moving things over and over, because of the space constraints we have."

Construction of the project is scheduled for completion in December 2015. At peak construction there will be about 200 people working on the project.

Hann said a strong local economy and the expansion of the convention centre led to a boom in new hotel construction, with about 1,150 rooms in the planning stage or under construction.

According to Hann, Hampton Inn recently completed construction of a hotel with 139 rooms. In addition there are a number of projects in the planning stage or under construction, including: an expansion at the Marriot (46 rooms); Steel Hotels (90 rooms); Manga Hotels (120 rooms); Sandman Inn (200 rooms and three major chain restaurants; an unnamed hotel at the airport (125 rooms); and the Lighthouse Project (25 rooms).

There is also a plan by the owners of a parking garage called Atlantic Place to add a few floors on the top of the structure, which will create 150 rooms.

Both the federal and provincial governments are committed to invest $15 million for the project.

The city's share will be covered by an accommodation tax of four per cent that is applied to every hotel room in St. John's.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government reported that major meetings (events booking 50 or more guest rooms per) in the St. John's area increased to 104 in 2013 from 90 in 2012. In the same period, the number of delegates attending rose 17.3 per cent to more than 25,900, which is a record high.

This activity translated into an increase of about 31 per cent in the number of room nights sold to more than 42,200.

Hann said the number of conventions is predicted to increase by 20 per cent in the first year of operation and 50 per cent by the fifth year.

by RICHARD GILBERT

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