By Colleen Isherwood, Editor
HALIFAX — Marriott International, Inc. has announced a deal to bring its Autograph Collection brand to Halifax, Nova Scotia with a 110-room hotel to be called MUIR, Autograph Collection. The property’s developer, The Armour Group Limited, expects to open the hotel in spring 2021.
The five-storey hotel is slated to open as part of Queen’s Marque, a $200-million mixed-use development in Halifax’s historic waterfront area. The property will include a premium restaurant and lobby bar, a 1,000 square-foot event gallery, and access to an 8,000 square-foot wellness centre equipped with an array of fitness equipment, hydrotherapy and cold plunge pools, and a halotherapy salt room.
“We’re delighted to be working with The Armour Group to open our first Autograph Collection hotel in Nova Scotia, in the much loved city of Halifax – a destination where domestic and international travellers are increasingly coming to work and play,” said Paul Loehr, regional vice-president for development, Canada, Marriott International.
“From our first meeting with Scott [Armour McCrea, CEO, The Armour Group Limited] and his team, we were impressed with their vision, commitment to quality and passion to deliver an extraordinary project for Halifax. This is also a ‘one-of-a-kind’ site with direct frontage on the water in the heart of downtown. Lastly, we loved the overall concept of Queen’s Marque, which in addition to the hotel includes residential apartments, offices, restaurants and beautiful outdoor spaces for the public to enjoy – you could envision Queen’s Marque becoming the centerpiece of the city and a ‘must see’ destination for anyone travelling to Halifax.”
Loehr added that the property will be a perfect fit for the Autograph Collection. “The Autograph Collection consumer is driven by the desire for unique and enriching experiences,” he said. “They seek high quality, thoughtful service and attention to detail that’s woven throughout the hotel experience. This is what MUIR, Autograph Collection will deliver – the hotel will pay tribute to the unique heritage and character of Halifax and Nova Scotia. Everything from the architecture to the construction materials to the design will reflect the rich history of the region.”
“We are very pleased to collaborate with Marriott International to create a new, premium destination in the heart of Halifax,” said Armour McCrea. “Our RFP process was extensive. We looked for an affinity partner whose brand aligned with our vision for MUIR. The Autograph Collection brand stood out because of our shared commitment to creating a truly unique experience that delivered a distinct sense of place.
“We are trying to create something that offers great service to the corporate customer, plus authenticity of place, uniqueness of design and culinary experiences,” said Armour McCrea. “We are satisfied with the quality of the Autograph Collection hotels, including those that are being added to the pipeline. We were impressed by the professionalism and care Marriott has shown with the hotels and their customers.
“We also decided to partner with an international hotel company because of the benefits in terms of reservations, the loyalty program, and back- of-the-house support,” he said.
The name, MUIR, is not only a common surname in Nova Scotia, but it a Gaelic word meaning “sea” or “by the sea.” “Nova Scotia is shaped by the sea; you’re never more than 70 kilometres from the sea in Nova Scotia,” Armour McCrea said. “It spoke to some of the key elements of what we are trying to deliver — something that is born of this place, speaks to Maritimers and is genuine.”
The Queen’s Marque mixed-use project will also include 142 luxury leased residences, 50,000 square-feet of premium retail and restaurant space, 120,000 square-feet of office space and 2.5-acres of public space that will feature a central plaza, an amphitheater and an extensive public art collection.
Construction of the project is largely on schedule, said Armour McCrae. The hotel has been delayed, but due to contractor concerns, not COVID-19. The office building opened in March; parts of the public areas are now open; the residences should open in September; more sections will open up during 2020; and the hotel and its significant food and beverage component are scheduled to open in late spring 2021. Construction on the whole project should wrap up by late summer or early fall of 2021.
Once open, MUIR will join the Autograph Collection’s diverse and dynamic global portfolio of nearly 200 inspiring, distinctive hotels carefully crafted with vision and passion, making each hotel singular and special.
“We continue to refine some details,” Armour McCrae said. “We want to create unique ancillary spaces and experiences, and these exclusive, one-of-a-kind experiences will be rolled out and made public. We are also concerned with the physicality of the space, and the opportunities for the guests in the hotel and beyond.”
This signing underscores Marriott International’s growing premium portfolio in Canada, where the company now has five open Autograph Collection hotels across the country – including the Algonquin Resort in St. Andrews, N.B., Kananaskis Mountain Lodge in Kananaskis Village, Alta., Civic Hotel in Surrey, B.C., the DOUGLAS in downtown Vancouver and the iconic Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina. “MUIR brings an authentic and luxurious Nova Scotian hotel experience to our growing portfolio of Autograph Collection hotels in Canada,” Loehr said.
He added that Marriott has signed deals with four other Autograph Collection properties in Burlington, Ont., Montreal, Calgary and Saskatoon.
General manager Desmond Acheson joined MUIR as its first employee in February — three weeks before people started working from home due to COVID-19. While Armour McCrea is responsible for the design and building of the project, Acheson said his job is to be ready to step in once the hotel is open for business. He is looking at the service infrastructure — how staff would serve coffee; how to serve a martini. It’s too early at this time to determine how these things will be affected by COVID-19 when the hotel opens next year. “My focus is on quality and relationship to the environment; how people here operate; what they expect and what they like.”
“Food is a critical part of this — I call it the ‘theatre’ of a hotel.” MUIR’s dining options will include a three-meal a-day restaurant at street level, overlooking the plaza and the ocean; the lobby bar; and a residents’ and members’ bar on the third floor with an outdoor terrace looking out at the harbour.
“We will have a 1,000-square-foot meeting room, which will be an art gallery as well. Slowly, it is all coming together and it is just fascinating.
“I went into the showroom and thought I knew what to expect, but I felt like I was in a stateroom on a luxury liner. The whole focus is on what it feels like to be a Nova Scotian, in a modern way.”
Acheson has a resume that spans more than three decades in luxury properties in many countries including Brunei, Bahrain and Thailand. He has worked in what is now one of the other Marriott Autograph Collection hotels in Canada, then known as the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis. “I’ve been terribly lucky with the places I’ve been able to work. The goal is to have service that is understated luxury — but not all over you. If you come in tired and chilly, we will offer you a hot drink. We won’t wait for you to ask — we’ll provide anticipatory service. The guest doesn’t feel fussed over, but rather looked after. My background in various hotels around the world helped me understand how important that is.”