The clash of hammers and the whirring of drills are a constant reminder of the major changes happening inside the historic McKinnon Building in downtown Revelstoke these days.
The historic building is seeing its biggest facelift ever as it gets transformed into a new combination restaurant/hotel/event space by its new owners Rebekah and Stephen Jenkins.
The interior has been gutted, the ceilings and walls removed and truckloads of concrete removed from the basement as the new owners turn the building into The Explorers Society Hotel.
“The space is magical, we started to have visions for what we could do and they radically evolved from there,” Rebekah told me during a tour Friday morning.
The Jenkins are exemplary of the type of family investing in Revelstoke these days. They made their money working in the tech industry in Seattle and bought property here just before Revelstoke Mountain Resort opened in 2007. It was a move triggered by an impromptu visit and one they didn’t regret.
“It’s one of the most unique places in North America where you can combine world class sports with a charming Victoria town,” said Rebekah. “The feeling here is very inclusive and excited and open, and we really love the people here.”
They built the Revelstoke Roost in Upper Arrow Heights 3.5 years ago and when the McKinnon Building was put up for sale last year, they got in line for a chance to buy it.
“We were the last and had to sit on our hands and wait for everything else to resolve,” Rebekah told me. “But when I walked into the space I said I love it and I want this.”
Photo: Rebekah Jenkins upstairs in the future Explorers Society Hotel in Revelstoke’s downtown McKinnon Block.
The McKinnon Building was built in 1911 by Hector McKinnon when Revelstoke was booming; during that same period the court house, the original Queen Victoria Hospital, and Mountain View Elementary were erected.
The brown brick building started off as McKinnon’s Pool Hall and included a tobacconist and barber shop on the main floor. There was a bowling alley in the basement and seven apartments upstairs. It’s gone through many different lives since then, seeing time as a dance hall, mini shopping mall, dentist office and, most recently, as the home to the Nickelodeon Museum.
Now, it’s about to enter another life.
Work on the renovations began this winter when the windows were papered up and a demolition permit was slapped on the window. Work is now underway to put it all back together and the demolition permit has been replaced by a building permit. The construction is being led by local builder Bill Black.
“We’re maintaining as much as the historic feel of the building as we possibly can and still meet code requirements,” said Jenkins.
I walked through the building with Rebekah, looking upstairs, where the hotel rooms will be, and in the basement, where the old boiler will become the centre piece of a small whiskey bar.
Photo: The original brick will be exposed in some of the hotel rooms.
The Explorers Society Hotel will feature nine rooms of varying sizes. Three at the front of the building will feature the exposed brick of the original building. Others will be semi-suites and one will contain a kitchenette.
Jenkins described the rooms as European style, meaning they will have two long twins that can be pushed together to make a king bed.
“We can accommodate groups of men, we can accommodate groups of women, and we can accommodate families,” said Jenkins.
The highlight might be the rooftop deck, which, unfortunately, will be for hotel guests only. It will include loungers, a fire place, hot tub and possible a sauna.
The main floor will be divided into a restaurant and event space. The 70-person restaurant will be run by Olivier Dutil of La Baguette fame. Jenkins said the food will be “inventive country French.”
The restaurant will be located in the front of the building, with a mezzanine sitting above the bar area. The 6-metre high tin-ceiling, an original element of the building that they plan on restoring, provides plenty of space for the middle-level.
The event space will be able to hold 75 people for a seated banquet, 150 for a cocktail reception and 200 for dancing. They want to it be used for everything from weddings to concerts to art shows to conferences.
“We want this to be a super, multi-functional space that has multiple facets to it,” said Rebekah.
Photo: The old boiler is being kept and the space will be turned into the Boiler Room Bar.
The kitchen is located inside the basement. It will also include storage space and the Boiler Room Bar — small, 16-seat space with a bar wrapped around the 100-year-old boiler that used to heat the entire place. On the wall next to the boiler is a heart with the names Norm & Verona written inside — a possible legacy to the buildings time as a disco (or brothel?).
The Jenkins hired Seattle’s Brian Paquette as an interior designer and an Austin, Texas, company to do the branding. They want outdoor companies to come here and use Revelstoke as a base for product launches instead of Whistler. Like other new developers, they believe the hotel will add to Revelstoke rather than detract from existing businesses.
“We want to really focus on how we can look at the national and North American and even international markets and bring people to Revelstoke, even in the shoulder seasons,” said Rebekah. “I use the analogy, the tide rises all boats… It’s going to bring people to the downtown corridor.”
The name, The Explorers Society, evokes their ideal of Revelstoke mountain culture and the type of people that come here, whether they’re extreme athletes or simply elderly coupes in an RV.
As the project develops, so do the Jenkins’ ties to Revelstoke. They’ve been part-time residents since first coming here in 2007, but are making the move full-time now that their three children have all left home for college.
“I drove up with my personal belongings on this trip,” Rebekah told me. “We’re selling everything that’s not strapped down to fund this project, so we’re selling our house in Seattle.”
They aim to open in time for the 2016-17 ski season.
You can follow their progress on The Explorers Society Facebook page.