Kitimat floating hotel | BCBusiness
The Silja Festival, originally a commuter ferry from Estonia, will be housing 600 Alcan workers in Kitimat, B.C.
As northern B.C. booms with various construction projects and preparations for LNG development, towns like Kitimat face a housing crunch. One company's solution to the problem docked at Terminal B in Kitimat on Monday
A floating hotel arrived in Kitimat Monday morning to house 600 labourers working on Rio Tinto Alcan’s $3.3-billion aluminum smelter modernization project. But the entrepreneurs behind the “flotel,” as they call it, see opportunities far beyond this one-year contract with the mining giant.
“We’re talking with other operators up there,” said Andrew Purdey, one of the partners with Bridgemans Services Ltd., which purchased and refurbished the former Estonian commuter ferry to accommodate the Alcan workers, who are expected to board the ship on Tuesday.
“The services on land just aren’t there. The land in the Pacific Northwest is relatively limited, and the services to support the land are relatively limited. This is an excellent solution. We arrive in Kitimat and within 24 hours, we’ll be housing people and functioning. It’s effectively a plug-and-play opportunity.”
Purdey believes that with the proposed LNG projects coming online in the Kitimat/Prince Rupert area, “it’s quite evident that the demand for construction and all the services that support construction is going to be challenged.”
Enter the Silja Festival. The boat, built in 1986, was designed as an overnight Baltic ferry, taking up to 400 cars and 1,800 passengers between Estonia and Finland, Sweden and Denmark. It had reached the end of its useful life as a commuter ferry, so the owners were looking to sell. That’s when Purdey and his business partner Brian Grange stepped in and purchased it for an undisclosed amount (although estimated costs for retrofitting the ship and transporting it to Kitimat top $4 million).
Purdey and Grange formed Bridgemans in 2013 to seize on the shortage of accommodations catering to workers in the energy and construction industries of Northern B.C. Purdey has his own construction firm, Ruskin Construction, based in Prince George, while Grange is vice president of the West Coast Fishing Club, which has long used floating lodges to accommodate its high-end clientele. They both saw the Silja Festival as the perfect solution to Rio Tinto’s need to house workers – as well as an advertising vehicle to secure more contracts as the regional economy continues to boom.
“This ship is going to essentially double the convention area and the cafeteria area in Kitimat,” said Purdey, noting that the boat has nine conference rooms and can serve up to 2,000 meals a day. “The town is under a lot of pressure and this vessel will relieve a lot of that pressure.”