Lake Okanagan Resort: Rapid decay and glory days - InfoNews

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Lake Okanagan Resort: Rapid decay and glory days

Rod McKeen is one of the original owners at Lake Okanagan Resort and says it has deteriorated dramatically since new owners took over five years ago.
September 04, 2019 - 6:00 AM

KELOWNA - Rod McKeen is one of the original owners at Lake Okanagan Resort bemoaning its fall from five-star status to something that struggles to attract visitors.

“There used to be weddings here — it used to be busy every weekend,” McKeen told iNFOnews.ca. “They even brought the heads of the British Empire here.”

That was in October 1987 when leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Brian Mulroney and Rajiv Gandhi spent a day at the resort as a retreat after the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Vancouver.

McKeen, who bought his home as the resort was first being built in 1979, gave up his unit for a week so Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke could stay there and sip a few beers.

In July, Keith Funk, from New Town Architecture and acting as an agent for the owners, said the resort is “falling apart” and in “the process of decay," something, McKeen said, that only took five years to happen since the new owners came in.

Plus, B.C.’s Ministry of Environment is considering levelling fines following an inspection of its sewage system in March of this year.

There are definitely visible problems with the sewage system with two "portable" sewage plants and olfactory signs with a foul stench wafting over parts of the resort.

The golf course overlooking one of the newer Point Beach buildings and Okanagan Lake.
The golf course overlooking one of the newer Point Beach buildings and Okanagan Lake.

HOW DID ALL THIS HAPPEN?

The roughly 300 acres of land about 20 kilometres north of the Bennett bridge was bought sometime in the 1970s by Joe Reisek, according to McKeen, who was in real estate in Edmonton at that time.

Reisek was financing the project at very high-interest rates, McKeen said. He couldn’t make the payments so it went into receivership under the management of Coopers Lybrand.

They brought CP Hotels in to run the resort, McKeen said. It flourished and it was during their time that the Commonwealth leaders visited.

CP came very close to buying the resort but didn't. Then there were a few different private owners before Fairmont Resort Properties, which also owned Fairmont Hot Springs, bought it and set up a timeshare program, McKeen said

Fairmont eventually went into receivership and was bought by Northwynd Resort Properties Ltd. in 2010. In 2014, they sold it to a “Chinese tourism organization.” Estimates of the sale price range from $8.5 to $11 million.

That company appears to be owned by Xiao Dong Liu and has a Richmond mailing address. It’s listed in the Ministry of Environment report as 1782 Holdings Limited.

The Lakeside building next to the beach with its Tiki Bar. The Terrace building is in the background. Both are about 40 years old.
The Lakeside building next to the beach with its Tiki Bar. The Terrace building is in the background. Both are about 40 years old.

WHO REALLY OWNS THE RESORT?

Thousands of people now own the resort.

Only the land, some of the buildings and individual units within some of those buildings can be bought and sold as a resort.

From what sources who did not want their names used told iNFOnews.ca, there are 217 units and about 98 of those are individually owned through five strata councils. Some owners live there year-round while others rent out their suites for at least part of the year.

There are about 73 timeshare units.

A letter sent to timeshare owners by Lake Okanagan Resort in November said there were 4,517 such owners in 2014 but that number was expected to fall to about 3,500 this year as they are being pressured to get out of their investments.

Most of those are in the Lakeside and Terrace buildings that were built in 1979 and 1981 and, according to the letter, “have urgent issues” with the sewer system and an aging electrical system in the Terrace building.

In fact, there are two portable sewage treatment plants in the parking lot between those two buildings.

That leaves the Chinese owners with the clubhouse, pools, golf course, about 22 timeshare units, the 24-room hotel, sewage systems and other infrastructure.

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

The resort is under a Land Use Contract that allows for a total of 500 units to be built on-site.

These tennis courts were actively used when the new owners came in. This is the area where new construction may be possible.
These tennis courts were actively used when the new owners came in. This is the area where new construction may be possible.

In July, Funk spoke to the the Regional District of the Central Okanagan board about a proposal for to build 14 duplex units at the south end of the property. He told the board that profits made from that project would be used to build a new sewage system to handle all 500 units.

That, he said, would be the start of the revitalization process. But, despite questions from the board, Funk did not say if there were any plans to either renovate the older units or replace them.

At that meeting, Funk also said the resort was decaying and it was essential to build these new, high-end, units out of sight of the rest of the resort.

DECAY. WHAT DECAY?

Driving around the resort, the buildings look clean and bright, the lawns are mowed and there are some beautiful flower gardens, especially in front of the rows of houses where the owners do their own landscaping.

McKeen’s home is bright and modern looking and the swimming pool looks great with a fabulous view of Okanagan Lake.

This is one of the pools and hot tubs that add appeal to the resort.
This is one of the pools and hot tubs that add appeal to the resort.

But, look a little closer and the wear and tear of the years is a little more visible with potholed roads, an abandoned tennis court, rough fairways on the golf course and tales by residents who don't want to be named about poor maintenance, especially in the 40-year-old Lakeside and Terrace buildings.

Pot holes are some of the more visible signs of decay.
Pot holes are some of the more visible signs of decay.

Dwight Caroll, a strata owner and a building inspector by trade, says things are not that bad.

“We wish the place was better than it is,” Carroll said. “However, based on its age, it’s not a knockdown, mainly because we have a strata corporation. We manage it.”

But, when the new owners came in, they stopped paying their strata fees for a time, he said.

“We were in arrears to Hydro,” Carroll said. “We all had to put in a special fee to pay the bills.”

He’s upset that all the negative publicity is making it difficult for strata owners to rent out their suites.

WHY SHOULD WE CARE?

A number of strata and timeshare owners have contacted iNFOnews.ca to express their concerns over the deteriorating conditions. They live or stay there because of the fantastic views of Okanagan Lake, the peace and the quiet.

The view from one of Rod McKeen's two balconies shows why so many people want to live at, or stay at, Lake Okanagan Resort.
The view from one of Rod McKeen's two balconies shows why so many people want to live at, or stay at, Lake Okanagan Resort.

But the tourism impact of the resort has dwindled, McKeen said. Conventions, conferences and weddings are not at all what they used to be.

And there is the immediate concern that a failing septic system could put sewage into Okanagan Lake.

It means that tourists aren’t coming in the numbers they used to so they’re not spending their money in other Okanagan businesses and it’s not putting the Okanagan on the world stage as it once did.

“I think it’s a pristine property,” McKeen said. “I’ve been all across this country. I know nice resorts and I’ve stayed at a lot of them and there’s nothing as nice as this. Nothing. I’d like to see the new ownership develop (the property) as already approved – that’s doubling the size."

What the owner’s next move will be, Funk isn’t saying. He refused to talk to the media about Lake Okanagan Resort.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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