Vancouver investor Helen Poon has a history of taking buildings in the worst part of the Downtown Eastside and transforming them. Now, she is hoping to bring some of that success to Port Alberni with her latest acquisition: the Kingsway Hotel and Pub.
One of Poon’s apartment projects in the DTES saw her successfully remove the criminal element and turn the building into a better place for lower income residents to live. “I grew up in fortunate circumstances,” she says. “I thought I could make this place good enough for myself and offer it to people who need some shelter.”
Poon visited Port Alberni last May on a trip to Ucluelet with a group of classic car owners. On the way, she stopped in Port Alberni, where fellow club member Dave Koszegi is a realtor, and asked him to show her “the worst part of town. He took me to Fourth and Angus. We drove by the Kingsway and I said ‘this place looks really bad and I want to do something about it.’”
The Kingsway, which was listed for $439,000 with NAI Commercial Central Vancouver Island, boasts of seven hotel rooms and the pub. Poon made an offer and bought the building. Then she got busy with renovations.
“We’re trying to make the interior reflect the heritage of Port Alberni,” she says. “We want to bring back a 1920s kind of feel to the building.”
Gone are the beer-soaked carpets and drop ceilings, revealing a fir floor and 12-foot-high ceilings. One of the walls will feature natural timber rounds in an homage to the area’s forest industry.
While the interior will be updated, Poon is bringing back traditional touches like the 22-foot shuffleboard table and pool table. “Some of our patrons are asking if we’re keeping knick-knacks and photos.
“Yes, we’re keeping them, because we want to preserve the history,” says Poon. “There are a lot of neat things in that pub.”
One of the interesting things Poon discovered was the collection of vintage beer bottles, which had lined a shelf near the ceiling.
In the renovated Kingsway Pub the beer bottle collection will be behind display glass at eye level “so people can actually see it.”
Work crews also discovered some vintage paintings that Poon estimates were done in the 1920s. They were able to save some of them, she said.
The Kingsway has been closed since Feb. 24 as Poon, contractor Chase Yellowquill of First Canadian Construction Corp. and others assessed what needed to be done: that included replacing the roof.
“We took six tonnes of garbage out,” Poon said.
The complete renovation will be done in phases and will take about two years in total. The hotel portion will be transformed into executive-style apartments that will be available for monthly rentals—a gap in service that Poon sees in the Alberni Valley. Existing tenants will be allowed to stay on if they want to “and we’ll do improvements around them.”
The kitchen isn’t open yet, but Poon says they will get it up and running “in the future.” In the meantime she is exploring options such as food trucks, but admits the selection in town is small. Regular entertainment is also in the plans, as is a wine bar and a whisky bar.
“Hopefully, locals will be surprised and happy with what we’re doing and hopefully tourists will come too.”
She also hopes she can attract other investors from Vancouver to the Alberni Valley. “I’m very excited to have this place open. I see a lot of opportunity in this place.” The area has seen development in the past few years, with the marine business and the new Thunderbird apartment building down the block.
“I think change is good here,” says Poon. “Any positive change is good.”