Rocky road for hotel north of 60

By Elaine Anselmi

Nova Hotel construction site.

Nova Hotel construction site.

YELLOWKNIFE — Despite competition next door and some community concern, Nova Hotels is pushing ahead with its Yellowknife project. 

The 146-room hotel project welcomes visitors to Yellowknife, lining the only road in and out of the Northwest Territories capital. The seven-acre construction site is hard to miss, as its cozy location next to the landmark Explorer Hotel is far from inconspicuous.

The new-build is planned to open in spring 2017, according to Nova Hotels owner Mike Mrdjenovich, when it will be in direct competition with the neighbouring historic and oldest hotel in town.

“We’re not afraid of competition,” Mrdjenovich said, adding that in a limited market, such as the 20,000-person city, that’s just the way it is.

“(Other hotels in town) run a good show, nobody says they’re not, but we’ll do a little better job and do a better price — if they want to compete, they have to lower the prices, too.”

A lower room price, Mrdjenovich said, is a key factor in his project — quoting a cost of approximately $150 per night.

Construction began on the hotel in June and the first floor is already framed in, but there have been some bumps along the way. Several community members have come out in opposition of the hotel project, largely taking issue with its location beside Niven Lake and surrounding nature trails.

“It’s a small town and everybody makes their business everybody else’s,” Mrdjenovich said. 

Not one to mince words, Mrdjenovich said, sometimes, “you just have to deal with it.”

This isn’t Mrdjenovich’s first kick at the can in Yellowknife.

Mrdjenovich started Nova in Yellowknife in the 1970s, opening his first hotel in 2000, said daughter and Nova president Aleksa Mrdjenovich. Though the company is now based in Edmonton, she said they still have a strong tie and a strong brand in the North.

The company still operates the Nova Inn in Inuvik, NWT, as well as 15 hotels across Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Mrdjenovich’s first Yellowknife build is now operated under the Days Inn banner — the 80-room hotel occupies a significant stretch of the city’s main street, Franklin Ave., with a second building across the street offering apartment-style suites.

Nova’s new build, which Mrdjenovich said would be under the Nova Hotels brand, will encompass a conference centre and full restaurant and lounge. While the project is still in an early phase when it comes to décor, Aleksa said it would be similar to the Chateau Nova Yellowhead Hotel in Edmonton, with warm and inviting colours.

“It’ll be new, it’ll be all of the electronics — it’ll be to the newest standards of a hotel,” Mrdjenovich said. “It will be like staying down south.”

He said the hotel would largely attract business people, but in a smaller city there really isn’t enough business to cater to one specific group.

As far as future plans go, Mrdjenovich said size is also a factor.

“It’s a little town, it’s not going to need another hotel for a while after we build this one,” Mrdjenovich said.

“If I’m still alive and they need another hotel, I’ll build it or put a big addition to this one.”

While Mrdjenovich is confident his hotel will be enough to service the city, there have been whispers of a 75-room addition just next door, bringing the Explorer up to 262 rooms in total.

But nothing seems to deter Mrdjenovich – though outspoken and controversial, he is undoubtedly a big name in Yellowknife development.