Next steps for JW Marriott The Rosseau

MINETT, Ont. — Ken Fowler, the original developer of JW Marriott The Rosseau Resort and Spa, built a jewel in Muskoka. Now Michael Sneyd is refining Fowler's vision and taking the resort to the next phase.

Michael Sneyd.

Michael Sneyd.

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

MINETT, Ont. — Ken Fowler, entrepreneur and original developer of The Rosseau, A JW Marriott Resort and Spa, built a jewel in Muskoka — a five star hotel at four star prices. Now Michael Sneyd is refining Fowler's vision and taking the resort to the next phase.

Sneyd, who was recently named COO of Rosseau Developments after more than five years as CEO of Skyline International Development Inc., said his career has come full circle since 1989, when he was hired by Dumez, a French development company, to develop a resort on the island of Nevis in the Caribbean. The four-season resort had a golf course, restaurant, and a residential component — the leading edge of a development model that would become increasingly popular. In Toronto, just about every four-star hotel that has opened has a hotel/residential condo/retail model. Indeed, when the Delta Toronto opened two years ago, it was hailed as first purpose-built four-star property for Toronto in two decades.

Sneyd then moved to Signature Resorts where he developed golf course communities the U.S. sunbelt, including a Marriott in Tucson, Ariz.

“I came from a tropical paradise and here I was building an airport hotel in the desert,” Sneyd told CLN during a tour of the Rosseau property. But they convinced Marriott to change the interior and exterior architecture to fit in with the Arizona desert, and to upgrade the guest rooms to include big bathrooms with separate showers and tubs, and two-sink vanities, so that guests would say, 'Wow!  We're glad we're here'.”

Marriott took the architecture from that property and used it for two more U.S. hotels, Sneyd said. They created a new brand, JW, positioned between Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, aiming to deliver a five star experience at four-star prices.

View of the resort from Lake Rosseau.

View of the resort from Lake Rosseau.

Sneyd was on hand to advise Fowler when he brought the JW brand to Toronto — and they still stay in touch. Fowler built the JW Marriott hotel/residential/condo/retail development in Rosseau, opening in 2009 — smack dab in the middle of the recession. No expense was spared, with exquisite custom details and thoughtful touches that exceeded even JW standards. For example, hotel exterior lights all faced downward so that they would not interfere with the night sky, to accommodate astronomy sessions. There are stone fireplaces, granite countertops, carved headboards and hand-painted dressers and night tables in every unit. 

“You're building a Ritz,” Fowler was told.

Fowler sold all of the condo units, but he had overspent his budget and had to go into receivership. Many of the condo purchasers reneged on their agreements. 

Canadian Niagara Hotels

Canadian Niagara Hotels purchased the complex after the receivership in 2009/10. Their goals were to turn it around financially, sort out operational issues relating to condo owners, fix all the legal issues and then sell the units and keep the hotel running.

Today, the hotel is not only running; it is bustling, almost fully occupied during the summer months. It has achieved top 10 status in the Conde Nast ranking of Canadian resort hotels for the past three years — the only hotel east of the Rockies on the list. Of the 221 units, 89 are owned. The five-star finishes have held up well; only the sofa beds in the studio, one- and two-bedroom suites need replacing, partly because of the clientele.  Originally designed as a couples' getaway property, it turned out to be a family destination too, said Sneyd. 

Fowler is now in his 90s, but far from retired. His original vision included not just the existing hotel, restaurants and spa on the 18-acre property, but Red Leaves, a broader community over on the Cleveland House lands, down the road from the JW.  After the receivership, Fowler retained Cleveland House, Lakeside resort and The Rock golf course. 

While Sneyd thinks Fowler's original plans for 2,000 condo units may be too ambitious, there is a wider market for the greater Red Leaves community. “We fully expect that vision will come to pass; it will just take longer than we originally thought,” said Sneyd.

Step No. 1 for Sneyd is to sell the remaining suites, called Rosseau Residences, beginning in September. They range in size from 496-square-foot studios to two-bedroom units at 1,120 square feet. Pricing starts in the low 200s, or $450 to $500 per square foot, “well below the original cost,” said Sneyd. 

Once the existing units are sold, they will start work on townhouse-style cottages on the lake, with prices starting at $1.75 million for 1,200 square feet.