Monday, November 30, 2009

Mission Hill will add a major hospitality complex




Mission Hill Family Winery has taken the next step to achieve owner Anthony von Mandl’s object of turning this into one of the world’s top 10 wineries.

At a District of West Kelowna council meeting in mid-November, Mission Hill launched the process of having the District approve an ambitious expansion over the next decade that cost at least $80 million.

That’s at least double what was invested in previous redevelopment of a winery. The project, which was completed about five years ago after more than six years of work, gave the winery the look of hilltop palace in Tuscany.

Mission Hill began working on its latest project two years ago. The architectural features are so creative that a scale model was built to help the District’s technical staff understand the concepts.

“Anthony’s vision now is more towards the hospitality side, to make it a true world-wide destination location,” Art Phillips, a Mission Hill consultant, said in an interview.

Construction is not expected to start until 2011, after architectural details are final and all of the approvals are in place. The project is to be done in four phases and completed about 2019 or 2020. It is believed there will be nothing comparable among other North American wineries.

The tentative plans call for a 104-room country inn, 30 guest cottages, a conference centre, a wellness centre, a year-round restaurant and an underground parking garage. The major structures will be anchored into the side of the mountain below Mission Hill’s current demonstration vineyard.

Mission Hill owns 17 acres on two mountainside benches below that vineyard. Seven acres are to be developed and the remainder is to remain in its natural state.

Because some of the structures are bored into the rock and because some roofs will be covered with vegetation harvested from the site, Mission Hill expects the development will blend into the hillside. Almost none of the buildings will be visible from the winery itself. The best view of the development likely will from a boat on Okanagan Lake.

In preliminary community meetings and at the District Council, questions were raised about the implications for the traffic volume to the already busy winery. Mission Hill plans to bring additional traffic up Mission Hill Road and then around the back of the existing winery and not through other public roads that have access to the site. The plan is that vehicles will disappear into underground parking on entering the development. Most of the development will be designed for pedestrian access.

However, Mission Hill does not expect a significant increase in traffic. The winery already has a concierge service to pick up visitors from the airport. This will be enhanced. “We’re trying to minimize the reliance upon the vehicle,” Phillips says. “You are not going to be looking an additional 100 to 150 cars coming into the area.”

Mission Hill opened originally in 1966, constructed in the style of an 18th Century California mission. Part of the original business plan relied on attracting winery visitors to what even then was the Okanagan’s most spectacular winery site. However, wineries were not permitted then to operate tasting rooms or wine stores. Mission Hill went into receivership twice between von Mandl bought it in 1981.

At that time, the winery had dirt floors, and welcomed visitors to a gravel parking lot with picnic tables. Government policy changed, allowing tastings. Von Mandl opened one of the first retail shops in a British Columbia winery.

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