'Scary' Saint John motel getting multimillion-dollar reno

The Colonial Inn, once a hot spot for music and late-night eats, was attracting an unsavoury clientele before it was boarded up in August. It sold to a new owner in September and renovations are underway.

New owners have high hopes for the future of the former Colonial Inn

Major renovations are underway at a Saint John motel best-known in recent years for robberies, health code violations, outlaw motorcycle club meetings and other shady activities. 1:32

Major renovations are underway at a Saint John motel best-known in recent years for robberies, health code violations, outlaw motorcycle club meetings and other shady activities.

The Colonial Inn was purchased from receivers Powell Associates Ltd. by a company associated with Ontario-based businessman Devendra Patel on Sept. 29.

Another company associated with Patel also bought the Canada's Best Value Inn, formerly Keddy's, in the north end of Saint John in July. 

Nav Singh, who is overseeing the first phases of work at the derelict Colonial Inn, says there's a lot to be done, but the crew hopes to be finished gutting and renovating the 80-suite motel within a year and a half. (Roger Cosman / CBC)

Ontario-based co-owner Ankit Amin said he and Patel plan to invest between $2 million to $3 million in the Colonial Inn, and as much as $5 million in the Canada's Best Value Inn. 

"We spotted this area out of nowhere and we liked it," Amin said. "It is comparatively very cheap here compared to Ontario."

Expected to find ghost

Nav Singh is overseeing the demolition inside the 2.45-acre property at 175 City Rd. He said it's the biggest project he's ever done — and he was slightly dismayed when he arrived with a small construction crew earlier this fall.

"I thought there was going to be a ghost inside, looking at the place," he said. "It was scary.

"No one would want to sleep here as it is."

The old reception desk at the Colonial Inn, one of many areas in the 80-plus suite hotel that needs a little TLC. (Brian Chisholm / CBC)

When the Colonial Inn first opened in the early 1970s, it boasted more than 80 suites, two banquet halls, a gym, pool and restaurant. Throughout the eighties and nineties, it was a regular stop for touring musicians and local Saint John acts such as Johnny Storm.

The 24-hour breakfast was popular with the late-night bar crowd well into the early 2000s.

But the quality of the clientele was degrading in recent years, observers found. Reviews on social media and the travel booking website Expedia.ca complained about bad smells, loud parties and cigarette-burned mattresses.

After years of declining fortunes, the motel was boarded up in August.

'Pretty bad shape'

Before the building changed hands in September, the previous owners had attempted some construction but didn't seem to get very far, according to Singh. 

"There was stuff all over and rooms filled up with old mattresses," he said. "They weren't really looking after the plumbing. The water in this city is kind of bad, and it rotted out all the copper. So we've got to change all the plumbing and that's a big challenge."

Crews are ripping up carpets and jack-hammering out tiles, many of which have not been touched for decades. The combined cost of the renos on the Colonial and the former Keddy's is expected to be about $8 million. (Brian Chisholm / CBC)

"Structurally, though, the building is good and there's concrete all through it."

They've been gutting the washrooms, throwing out all the old furniture and ripping out carpet and tiles.

"We're keeping only the walls here," Amin said.

"All the suites are going to have new washrooms, there will be a new lobby, the pool is going to look much better," Singh said. "We're going to be painting the outside."

"It'll be a new place — much better than the last one."

Electricians, plumbers wanted

Singh estimates with the plumbing and electrical work the building needs, the demolition and renovations will take a year and a half or more to complete. 

The construction will mean "jobs added to the local economy," Singh said.

Amin agreed.

"Saint John needs a higher-end hotel, which is what we have planned for the old Keddy's. This will be in the mid-range."

Though neglected, Singh said, the building has potential.

"People have been coming by all the time and they tell me that this used to be one of the nice hotels in the city back in the day," he said. "They're sad that it got this way."

"Now it's our responsibility to make it look good again."

About the Author

Julia Wright

Julia Wright is a reporter based in Saint John. She has been with the CBC since 2016.