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Huge micro-suites complex at Big White scrapped

It wasn't meant to be.

Black Forest Residences, a 172-unit micro-suites development at Big White Ski Resort, would have been the closest residential to a chairlift at any major resort in North America.

But, the developer -- Kelowna-based Vita Resorts by K West Homes -- has pulled out of the project because the private financing it was counting on fell through.

"It's disappointing," said Michael Ballingall, vice-president of Big White, which owns the land the dual-building, six-storey condominium would have been built on.

"The project looked so viable because it had 101 pre-sales and its biggest selling point was proximity to the Black Forest chairlift -- only 50 feet, true ski-in-ski-out."

</who>This drawing shows what Black Forest Residences would have looked like at Big White Ski Resort if it had gone ahead.

The developer has already returned deposits to the 101 potential buyers and turned the land back over to Big White.

Big White gets to keep the non-refundable deposit Vita paid to secure the land.

K West is an established and reputable developer which built a similar Vita micro-suites complex on Okanagan Lake in Vernon and has developed many condominium, townhouse and custom home projects, including homes at Kettle Valley and Gallagher's Canyon.

"The lot is serviced and ready-to-go," stated Ballingall.

"Something will be built there one day. There are always developers scoping out Big White. But it might not be for another two to three years because, although the resort desperately needs accommodations, the costs to develop and build has skyrocketed with labour and lumber and building materials costing way more and interest rates on the rise."

Vita was to have started construction on Black Forest Residences in the spring.

When plans and pre-sales for the project were launched last year it was touted as an innovative ski-in-ski-out micro-suites condominium-hotel with prices starting at less than $300,000.

Just a hair under $300,000, actually, at $299,000 for a 300-square-foot studio condo with kitchenette and three-piece bathroom with ski storage and parking in the underground.

While $299,000 may sound affordable, it actually works out to an expensive $1,000 per square foot when you're talking about a micro-suite of only 300 square feet.

Nevertheless, Black Forest Residences would have bolstered Big White's accommodation inventory by 172 units because many of the buyers would likely have used the micro-suites themselves, but also put it in a rental pool when they weren't using it.

Currently, Big White has four hotels in its village centre with 25 condo and townhouse complexes, a youth hostel and 244 private vacation homes, chalets and cabins surrounding the resort.

Many of the private condos, townhouses and homes are rented out to visiting skiers when the owners aren't using them themselves.

But, the accommodation pool never seems to be enough, especially over Christmas and long weekends when everything is booked.

Big White also doesn't have enough accommodation for workers who want to live on the mountain.

"We're full (with skiers and visitors) but doing it with 30% less staff because we can't house them," said Ballingall.

Ballingall said while the snow is great and skier and visitor numbers are the highest since pre-pandemic 2019, it's been a challenging year at Big White.

Airport chaos over Christmas meant travellers had trouble getting to Big White and when they did they might not have their luggage because it was lost in-transit.

And that's on top of the accommodation and labour shortages.

The Black Forest Residences cancellation isn't the first time a major development has gone sideways at the resort.

In 2008, and again in 2015, a developer tried to launch Chateau Blanc, a 19-storey, 450-unit condo-hotel with shops, restaurants, nightclub and daycare.

Chateau Blanc has been mothballed, but might come back if conditions improve.

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