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'George' unveiled for Gibsons marina hotel

George made a second landing in Gibsons last Saturday, this time at the top of School Road - and the crowd went wild. More than 350 people jammed the Gibsons Elementary School gym Sept.

George made a second landing in Gibsons last Saturday, this time at the top of School Road - and the crowd went wild.

More than 350 people jammed the Gibsons Elementary School gym Sept. 8 for the open-house unveiling of the proposed Gibsons Oceanfront Marine Hotel.

Presented as a major stimulus to the Lower Sunshine Coast economy, the world-class hotel would draw a projected 32,000 visitors to the area and transform the Gibsons waterfront, creating a new social and cultural hub for the community.

But it was the hotel's name, announced during a 15-minute video, that opened with an overview of George and Charlotte Gibson's pioneer contributions to the town, that got the crowd really fired up.

"Welcome to The George!" intoned the video moderator, triggering cheers and the loudest sustained applause of the morning.

The George Hotel will be a game-changer for the Gibsons economy, proponent Klaus Fuerniss told the audience during a short speech.

"This is not about me, this is not about the money. This is about building an economic stimulator that the community can enjoy and benefit from," Fuerniss said.

The projected benefits include:

$23 million in wages from the hotel construction, calculated as 245 man-years.

More than 130 full-time jobs with an average salary of $40,000, worth $5.3 million in annual income.

Almost $8 million per year in convention and tourism spending.

More than $1.1 million in annual property taxes to the town and $96,000 per year from the new hotel tax for regional marketing efforts.

The project was designed by a consulting team headed by DA Architects, whose credits include the new Vancouver Convention Centre and Chateau Whistler, and is intended to "meet and exceed" all technical, environmental and aesthetic requirements.

The building's terraced concrete design contains 96 hotel units on three levels and a fourth level with 31 condominium residences.

Public access amenities on the hotel's main floor include a conference centre with a dinner-seating capacity for 300, a Scandinavian-style spa that will pay homage to Gibsons' Finnish settlers, indoor pool and fitness centre and a walk-though lobby concourse that will link the waterfront to Gower Point Road and showcase local arts.

The George Hotel waterfront plan would replace the site's unsightly tanks and outdated marine-way with:

An expanded wharf area featuring a restaurant, seasonal food concessions and gathering places, with venues for live music, marine history and cultural events.

A seawalk extension to provide a continuous pathway from Winegarden Park to the Gibsons Marina.

Reconfigured boat slips by the fuel dock that will accommodate transient moorage for vessels up to 40 metres

The plan also calls for underground parking for 185 vehicles and a regular shuttle-bus service from the hotel to Upper Gibsons and the Langdale terminal - an item that drew cheers from some people at the open house.

Resident Linda Sonntag called the general audience reaction to the project "amazing" and compared it to "an Obama revival meeting" in its intensity.

"It's a show of support for moving forward," Sonntag said. "It's very encouraging and very revealing."

The enthusiasm wasn't unanimous, however. One heckler briefly disrupted the presentation and some members of the audience cited the project's impact on the aquifer as a major concern.

One attendee, who identified himself as Scott, said he would be opposed to the project as it now stands because he questioned its sustainability.

"The presentation was brilliant but the concept hasn't taken into account enough of the natural history of Gibsons," he said.

Anticipating the critics, the project design includes a commitment to meeting the Harbour Plan's Smart Growth mandate and aims for LEED gold construction standards to protect the aquifer and foreshore habitat.

Contacted Sept. 11, Fuerniss said he was "absolutely flabbergasted" by the responses collected on comment sheets at the open house - more than 200 were filled out, and of those, only 19 opposed or questioned the project.

"I know that roughly 90 per cent of the people in the room were in favour of the project," he said, calling the support "a confirmation that all our hard work was worthwhile.

"It's a very, very pleasant surprise."

The next step will be filing rezoning and development permit applications with the town later this month, and Fuerniss noted the public's questions and concerns will be addressed during the public process.

Fuerniss has more than 40 years' experience in the hospitality and convention industries in Canada and Europe. He opened the Winnipeg Convention Centre and managed it for eight years, and during Expo 86 he was appointed vice president, responsible for negotiating contracts with 54 participating countries. After Expo he was responsible for operating the Vancouver Convention Centre and Whistler Conference Centre.

He has lived in Gibsons for 17 years and owns Gibsons' Wendy's and Tim Hortons, along with seven other Tim Hortons outlets in Vancouver and other businesses.