Pacific Landings’ The Best in the Business: An interview with Randy Royer.
Welcome back to our blog PL friends, family and followers. Today we would like to introduce you to the man behind the vision of Pacific Landing, Mr. Randy Royer.
He kindly obliged to being battered with questions so that we could really give you the scoop on who he is, where he came from and all the info about Pacific Landing. Let’s dive right into this riveting Q&A, shall we?
Q- Let’s start by getting a little background. Where are you originally from?
A – “Sure, well, I was born in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. Oddly enough. Raised in Lethbridge and I live in Calgary now. But I have worked right across the country and developed a bunch of hotels in the US and a couple in Mexico, so kind of all over”
Q- What are some of your hobbies?
A- “My biggest hobby and interest is reading, and intellectual discovery. I have been particularly interested in spiritual religions and stuff like that. That is probably my biggest hobby. Second biggest is languages. I have studied over 20 languages, I don’t speak any not even English, but I have studied a lot of them. My reason for being interested in languages and the spirituality side is that I really find that those are entries into understanding people. Understanding their culture, understanding their background and where they came from as a people. I have always really enjoyed that. Those are probably my two biggest hobbies.”
Q- How did you get into the Hotel Business?
A- “ah Bad Luck! Ha-ha. It was a family business, so I started. When I was 7 years old I was working in the bar cleaning glasses because my Dad owned the hotel that had the bar in it and that’s just what we did. So, at 7 I was working in the bar cleaning glasses and at 10 I was washing dishes, before dishwashers interestingly enough, so I was washing dishes by hand and I was told that the first step to becoming a chef… I think they were lying to me!”
“Then when I was 12 I was a bouncer in the bar. I was 6 feet tall when I was 12 years old and during Lethbridge’s version of the stampede I was a bouncer and myself and my older brother got in a couple fights with guys ha-ha.”
“There is actually a story… Here I was, I was 12 years old, I was kicking a guy out of the bar and the liquor age was 21. He said “no save my seat ill be right back I have ID at home.” I said “I know you. You are the same age as my brother, I know you are not 21. You have to leave.” So, I went through this a few times and finally a police man comes up and asks “what’s going on?” I said “well I’m kicking this guy out he is not 21 and he has to leave” and the guy says “no, no I have my id at home.” I interrupted him and said “you don’t have any id it’s fake ID, I know you. you’re not 21.” Finally, he looks at me and says “well what are you doing here you’re not 21 either!” Here I was 12 years old and I said “well that’s different I work here” and the cop goes “ya buddy” and kicks him out and I went back to work! Ha-ha. That’s life in Lethbridge.”
Q- You used to own Royal Host, Can you tell us a little about that and what were some of the biggest and most successful projects you undertook?
A- “Royal Host was a publicly owned company. I think at one time we had 40 hotels and about 125 hotels under management and then we franchised about another 90 hotels. And we had about 3000 staff. We had properties all across Canada and our management operations went down into the US. Some of our notable successes were The Grand Okanagan, which I was actually involved in developing it and then we brought it into the REIT, Royal Host was a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust). There was a Holiday Inn in Edmonton, a Chemo hotel in Ottawa, a Hilton in downtown London.”
Q- Can you tell us a little more about the Grand Okanagan (now the Delta Grand)?
A- “Sure! Great project, I think it changed the face of Kelowna and to some extent it cemented Kelowna as the heart of the Okanagan. We started that project back in 1989 believe it or not. We won a proposal call from the city of Kelowna. We sort of envisaged right from day one, it was a 52-acre site, 9 acres we wanted to put into a hotel, 10 acres into an apartment / condo complex and the rest went into city park. It was fun to do that because in the city park we had a beach, we had a 7-acre lagoon system that was connected right with Okanagan lake. And it had actually won awards for some of the best urban design. The Hotel has been very successful.
Let me put it this way, when I go back to Kelowna which is not very often, occasionally someone will still recognize me and say, “Hey you’re they guy that built our hotel”. Which is kind of a nice compliment because they use the word ‘our’ and I think in Kelowna and the Okanagan there is a sense of proprietary ownership of the property and that’s very positive.”
Q- Can you tell us a little more about Banff Rocky Mountain Resort?
A- “The Banff Rocky Mountain Resort, this was back in ’85, that was our first foray into resort properties, we had identified a piece of property in Banff on the way into the city, we acquired it and then identified that there was an opportunity to do suite style units which there weren’t any in Banff and we actually started doing, we called it right to use, which was effectively time share. It turned out to be a very successful program and the property is still standing so that’s a good thing!”
Behind Pacific Landing
Q- What inspired the idea of Pacific Landing?
A- “Interesting enough the Grand Okanagan inspired the idea. We developed the private residence club in Kelowna back in 2003 and it was innovative in a lot of ways. One of the ways it was innovative was we were ahead of the curve and introducing a lot of green technologies and a lot of environmentally positive stuff. Some people really liked it, in fact some people bought just because of that. It certainly didn’t have the legs it has now because everyone is incorporating it into their buildings, but it was ahead of its time.
Part of what we were doing with the Grand Okanagan is it was sort of a playground. The location was a playground and the private residences club was very much oriented towards having a spot in a playground. That means it was for the baby boom generation that was sort of in their 30s and 40s and they wanted a place to play golf and go skiing and water-skiing. The grand was just at the heart of all of that stuff.
And so, when we finished that off and I left Royal Host in 2005/2006, I kind of looked at it and said okay what’s the next trend. Baby boomers always lead the trends for the last number of years so what’s the next thing that baby boomers are going to want?
We reached the conclusion that instead of the playground that they wanted when they were in the 30s and 40s now they are going into their 50s and 60s and they were going to look for a place that they could live out the rest of their lives. Active, Engaged, close to a university, in a relatively nice climate, in Canada. A place where you could have a sense of community. So that is the genesis of how the idea was created”
Q- What is the Vision for Pacific Landing?
A- “It’s a place where people can find community, they can find engagement, they can find support for activities. The dream is coming true. Now we are just getting ready for people to move in. The people that have been attracted here, it’s just been incredible, because they are what I had envisaged we would have. They are all really nice people. They want to be engaged, they are here everyday in the garden, taking care of things. The vision is actually coming true. It’s a nice dream.”
Pacific Landing now
Q- Personally, what is your favorite part of the project?
A- “Well my favourite part is that I have two children that work in the company, that’s a dream I didn’t even dare dream. I mean that’s second to none.”
Q- Pacific Landing has kind of become a family business, do you have anything to speak to that?
A- “As it has unfolded it is meeting the original dreams and its starting to far exceed them. And one of the pieces that inadvertently came together was that when I started thinking about how we were going to do this, the first thing I did was reach out to Dale Fish. Dale and I had worked together for many, many, 20 + Years and I needed someone to deal with the construction and there isn’t anyone better than Dale. So, I reached out to Dale and I reached out to Ray Parks, because we needed somebody local, we needed someone to help us on the various relationships and we need someone local because the hotel business is a local business. They agreed to join us in kind of a partnership to get this thing rolling.
As things unfolded Rays son fit right in, had a job and he is doing a great job. Kayla, you have joined us, for those of you that don’t know Kayla is Dales daughter. And I have a son and a daughter that work here, Emily and Jordy. It’s really become a family business and I have heard several times from buyers that is just such a nice atmosphere to have a real family atmosphere.
I want to say that in my career I worked in a family business. When we built all of these hotels it was a family business. It kind of came apart or dissolved whatever the word is in 2005 so I am very happy to be back in a family oriented business again.”
Q – Just makes for a nicer working environment eh?
A- “People care. People care about each other and they care about their customers. It’s just natural.”
Q- Can you speak to where the development is currently at, and what is coming next?
A- “We are just finishing off phase one. 33 residential units. They look fantastic, for those of you that haven’t seen them you’ve got to come out and take a look at them. Quite honestly, I think I am good at looking at plans and envisaging what they are going to look like, they actually exceed my expectations. They look really well, they look great. Well isn’t the right word they look wonderful. We have 32 of the 33 units sold and so there are 32 new owners moving in pretty soon.
And we are just starting on phase 2. That’s a 20-unit development. That is going to be a very nice building. It will be I think 4 floors with a penthouse on top with a viewing deck with a kind of a bell tower. And so that will look good from the ocean side when you look back at the property. And then we are going to start phase 3 in the not to distant future. We will probably start construction on phase 2 in September and have it finished by the next September.”
Q- One of the areas that Pacific Landing is very proud of is its various amenities, can you tell us a little more about them, and the inspiration behind them?
A – “So, we are doing a bunch of things differently and one of the things that is very different is we wanted to have these community building amenities. So, the first one is nothing buildings community better than when you eat together so we put in a community kitchen. It is to have a wood burning oven and other various things and the idea is that people can book it and they can have family over or they can get together with the community here on site.
The second piece is the yoga studio, eat together and then being active together. So, the yoga studio will have some exercise equipment and a yoga space. It also has an outdoor area for sitting and having coffee and getting together with your friends. We are also putting in a woodworking area Rod’s Wood Working. And we have an outdoor patio that has a viewing area so you can get together for a BBQ or lunch and just kind of sit there and enjoy the world.
As we go forward into phase 2 and 3 our intention is to add more amenities a swimming pool, club space, things like that. And then ultimately when we build the hotel our aspiration is to put in a full spa and all that stuff.”
Q – As a Hotel guy, what is your vision for the hotel phase of the project?
A- “Well my first vision is for it to be successful. It’ll be a multistory probably high-rise building at the back of the property. We will have some conference space in there, restaurant, bar – kind of a pub, and a meeting area. I think that there is a good demand from the students and the professors at the university, some from the Esquimalt base over here and then there is just some demand in the area. So, it will have services that relate to that, and the idea is that it will provide services to the rest of the site also. The same way that the Grand Okanagan provided services to the private residences club.”
Healthy, Active Lifestyle
Q- Can you tell us a little more about Pacific Landings focus on Healthy Living?
A- “So, the original vision was that people would be going for quality of life, and that is what baby boomers were going to want in their last 20 years in their last chapter of their lives. To us that meant being engaged, that’s why we wanted to be beside a university and royal roads fits that, having a community around you for support, for engagement, that sort of stuff, having opportunities for volunteerism, so that’s part of the community we want to create. Not only is it about getting to know people and befriending them it is about finding common purpose and doing things together. So that was the original vision.
And then we came in contact and got to know Dr. Theodore Cosco. He is a very interesting guy. He is from the Yukon and he has his Doctorate degree from Cambridge in the UK and he has studied Healthy Aging. And he has basically come to the conclusion through all his research and what have you, and I think that he puts it under three pillars, it’s about being healthy, its about being engaged and its about having community around you.
So, it turns out that all the things that we were driving for is what the masters of the subject say that’s what you should be doing. So, we have worked with Theodore and we have started incorporating those things. And as we roll forward we will incorporate more and more of that into our programming. What we are doing right now is we are creating the physical space and then we will introduce the programming as we go forward. Things like Gardens, I hadn’t mentioned that earlier but that is an important part of staying healthy for people that like gardening.
That’s part of what I wanted to incorporate as part of our social purpose for the project. One of the reasons that I started doing this is because I wanted to show that business needs to conduct itself with a social purpose as well as a profit purpose. I’ve got the social purpose figured out, I haven’t quite got the profit purpose figured out quite yet but I am hoping it’s coming one day. But the giving people a place, where they can get the most out of their life is the social purpose.
The biggest part of that is that the old way that we used to treat people as they aged is that we would put them in a corner or put them on a shelf and said you just sit there until you die, you just wind down in your last 20 years. Society loses a lot of skills if we do that, I want the exact opposite of that. I want people to be active, be engaged and continue to contribute.”
Q- Pacific Landing is really trying to break down the stereotypes around aging and geriatrics?
A- “Well the old stereotypes yeah, we’re trying to accommodate what people want and give the physical space for it. So, there is lots of people that are trying to achieve that. What I have found in the hotel business is that physical space reflects how people think.
The story I tell is that you can walk into the lobby of a hotel and you can just feel uncomfortable, you know something just isn’t right. And you don’t like the space and you don’t exactly know why. The reality is that it is probably something like the room is the wrong colour or it’s asymmetrical or its’ not square. There can be a million things wrong with it but the physical space actually does reflect on how people think.
So, this is what we are trying to create, and we are one of the first in Canada, there are some in the US but we are doing the Canadian version, they tend to be walled off in the United States and we don’t think that way in Canada we want to knock the walls down. So, this property is open to the community, and so this is the Canadian version of trying to create the physical space for them.”
Q- Pacific Landing is located on the Esquimalt Lagoon Bird Sanctuary, how will the development affect the sanctuary?
A- “I think positively, we for example in regard to the bird sanctuary, part of our development is we’re creating some new spawning grounds for fish. Birds like Fish… it gives them a place to spawn. We are actually going to be doing more of that. We are also creating more wetlands. We have a 100-meter set back from the water on the property, and we are actually going to be improving that for the birds because we are going to be creating settling ponds and what have you. So, between creating fish spawning grounds and creating these wetlands, it’s actually improving the place for them. So, they will be really thanking us those birds.”
Q- Bee Creek, the creek that runs through Pacific Landings property, is also a protected part of the area, how does that play into the development of the site?
A- “It’s not a protected area specifically, my understanding is that if we chose to we could have moved the creek but we chose not to do that. We chose to respect how the community feels about this creek. And the community feels very strongly about it because the creek had deteriorated years and years and years ago, and the community came together and restored it back to it’s natural and beautiful setting.
So, there was a lot of man hour and a lot of love a lot of attention paid to it on this property by the community. So, we have respected that, and we have protected it, we have stayed away from any sort of construction impact or anything like that. We have been very, very careful. We have worked closely with Patrick Lucy, who is a well-known environmentalist here, and we have actually come up with ways to improve it, like the spawning grounds we talked about.
We are also hoping that in conjunction with Royal Roads, we’re going to be able to change the environment a little bit to change mans impact on that creek and continue the improvements that the community had done. Get some of the silt out of the creek, which comes in from Royal Roads property next door, and that in itself will create the whole creek becoming more of spawning grounds. It had lost that status because of the silt, so we hope to continue to improve it. And because of our concept rather than the creek being and obstacle it was an amenity, because of how we viewed the development.”