CHIC: Modular hotels and a treehouse

TORONTO — With 550 registered attendees, this year's Canadian Hotel Investment Conference, held at the Westin Toronto was one of the largest in the event's 21-year history, and had some interesting and unusual sessions.

TORONTO — With 550 registered attendees, this year's Canadian Hotel Investment Conference, held at the Westin Toronto was one of the largest in the event's 21-year history, and had some interesting and unusual sessions.

HotelNEXT 2017 contestants including Brittany Lee and Phil Smith (left).

HotelNEXT 2017 contestants including Brittany Lee and Phil Smith (left).

The second annual HotelNEXT presentations showed the creativity and imagination of Canada's next generation of hoteliers. Team Quebec, three students from UQAM in Montreal, introduced pods that could be used for weddings in unique locations, housing for people who lost their homes to fire or other disasters, or for rock concerts.  Team Nomad Hotel Group from University of Guelph, painted a picture of a hip, minimalist hotel in Vancouver's Gastown, with one rather controversial idea — shared washrooms. 

The winner was Team The Limestone Group from Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., who came up with treehouse, a $12.3 million, boutique, 5-storey hotel to be located in Toronto's Liberty Village, which would host artists and feature commercial space. 

Treehouse connects the vibrancy of the millennial start-up scene with the artisanal community, according to treehouse proponents Brittany Lee and Phil Smith. The hotel will partner with local businesses to create a uniquely local amenity experience, while providing tangible benefits to income.

Lee and Smith provided an example of their target customer, Chris, a 26-year-old tech entrepreneur from Waterloo, Ont., who earns $72,000 per year. “Chris feels he doesn't get value for where he staying, as it's not where his clients are,” said Lee. “He wants an external work site and a community experience. Liberty Village is 'a bohemian enclave,' close to the tech villages at Queen and Dufferin.”

Treehouse would consist of 200-square-foot, lean micro-rooms, and a central gathering place called the treehouse. They would lease space to local third-party retailers and a hot local restaurant, and the hotel would have a wellness-oriented fitness centre, and work space. The young entrepreneurs have actually pinpointed a location, 43-49 Atlantic Avenue, currently a Green P parking lot zoned industrial/commercial.

Specifics could include offices with co-working space for tenants and guests. Well-known Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg could develop a new concept for them — possibly a juice bar called BOLT. They would like to lease space to the Museum of Contemporary Art. Reservations would be via an app, providing a QR code to the guest's mobile phone.

“We don't want the superficial interactions many hotels call service,” Lee said. 

Modular hotel construction

From left: Hugo Germain, Eric Watson, Adrian Mauro, Rod Graham and Jim Dunn.

From left: Hugo Germain, Eric Watson, Adrian Mauro, Rod Graham and Jim Dunn.

Jim Dunn, president of Stack Modular, specializes in Chinese-manufactured modular housing exported to the North American market; Rod Graham of Horizon North Logistics Inc., has a background in camps and catering; while Adrian Mauro of Chamberlain Architect Services Limited has a long career of building all kinds of hotels. The three of them participated in a panel moderated by Hugo Germain of Group Germain and Eric Watson of MasterBUILT hotels titled “Modular construction and its impact on the hotel business.”

Stack Modular, based in China and Calgary, specializes in purpose-build, structural steel modular buildings for the the residential, hospitality commercial and resource sectors. Dunn talked about a Tofino resort and hotel development designed by the Vancouver architecture firm DIALOG, showing how the 53 modular units, including 43 suites, were shrink-wrapped; then shipped to Nanaimo, B.C. The units were then craned into place within just 10 days.

“They ship them with the bedding on the beds,” Dunn said. This method of construction takes advantage of lower labour and material costs in China; it minimizes noise and disruption on site; and it's much shorter than traditional methods of construction.

Rod Graham of Horizon North says his company's DNA is in camp and catering business. They have 1,350 employees and they value safety. “Our employees have to pledge they won't text and drive,” said Graham. “Safety statistics are our core values.”

Horizon North, headquartered in Calgary, offers a fully turnkey system including design, engineering and project management.  They can put up an office building in less than five months. They built a 45-unit affordable housing complex in Vancouver in just 45 days. Unlike Stack, they use wood in their construction.

The Revelstoke Ramada hotel is one of their projects, assembled in just 20 weeks. Their plant is in Kamloops, B.C., and they have partnerships with 21 First Nations bands.

Adrian Mauro of Chamberlain talked about the TownePlace Suites by Marriott, competed a couple of years ago in Kanata, Ont. The five-storey hotel has 116 Suites, and an area of 71,195 sq. ft. 

Construction was a mix of conventional and pre-fabricated. The structural system included pre-fabricated light-gauge steel wall panels and a pre-fabricated light-gauge steel floor system, along with conventional steel deck and concrete topping.  Installation of the concrete foundation began in  Oct. 2014, and the building shell complete by mid-April 2015, despite the fact that they were dealing with 12 weeks of an Ottawa-area winter. 

Mauro said the construction was efficient, since there was one trade contractor from foundation to roof for all the building systems.  This compares to conventional construction, where three different building trades must be co-ordinated. It is cost-effective in areas where building systems are limited. It also had quality control advantages, since the shop-fabricated system was made to precise dimensions, and there was limited waste on site.

There were also disadvantages, however. 

These included limited competition, meaning a need for commitment to the building system prior to starting working drawings. There are not many trade contractors in the field.

Trades were not familiar with system, causing delays, and building officials had limited knowledge asked numerous questions.

This system requires greater coordination between trade contractors and consultants, and all problems need to be figured out prior to fabrication of the system.

Consultants must use Building Information Modelling software to prepare working drawings to ensure accuracy.

There is also additional lead time required at start of project, a minimum of 12-16 weeks. Shop drawings must be prepared and fabrication started prior to the construction start.

And finally, there should be no changes. Once fabrication has started, revisions are very costly.