Plans on hold — but not scrapped — for tourism complex in Salvage
Ontario businessman says project needs to be revised, in light of COVID-19 pandemic
An Ontario car dealer who has big plans for a small Newfoundland community says he's had to press the pause button on the project due to COVID-19.
Jeff Mierins, who owns Honda and Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Ottawa, is planning to transform a shuttered fish plant in Salvage, a town northeast of Terra Nova National Park, into a tourism complex.
But the pandemic has brought those plans to an abrupt halt.
"If you can imagine just pulling the handbrake on your car, and then skidding around and coming to a complete stop, that's what we had to do when the state of emergency was announced in Ontario," Mierins said.
"That's where the funding for this whole project is coming from. And if we don't know how much revenue we're going to be getting in, we don't know how much revenue we can put out, to continue with the different aspects of the project."
The fish plant was originally slated to be turned into a restaurant, a hotel, a marina with sea kayaking and boat tours, and a small convenience store.
Earlier plans for a microbrewery were put on hold because of what Mierins calls "a saturation of the marketplace," but he said they have space set aside for it in the future.
"[We're] definitely not walking away from it," he said.
"If the original plans don't come to fruition, there'll be some modification to those plans."
Keeping it local
The Salvage fish plant was built in 2002, after a fire destroyed a former plant the year before. The business was in operation until 2013, when it was sold to the Barry Group, which shut the plant down for parts.
Mierins, who has a saltbox house in the town, watched from afar over the years as the building started to deteriorate.
"We saw an opportunity there. We knew it was too expensive and well-built to be torn down," he said.
"There's a really good structure there that we had to work with. And we think it's a great project and great investment in the community."
He and his business partners, who are in the nearby community of Happy Adventure, took care to ensure the project provided a boost to the Eastport Peninsula's local economy.
"Part of our tender process was to make sure that local people were hired. So I know there's at least half a dozen people from the local community there that were working on that project," Mierins said.
A local craftsman was also hired to build furniture at his woodworking shop in Eastport; bedding and mattresses were bought from suppliers in Notre Dame and Gander; and the complex will be decorated with local art.
A Glovertown company was helping with construction, before the pandemic brought that to a halt. In the meantime, Mierins said there are other local companies working on the electrical and septic plans for the building.
"We have to prepare the base [of the] building to have it ready for the next phase of our construction, which we don't know when [it will happen] — but we want to be ready for it," he said.
Mierins said they're taking this time to revisit their plans, to address what the future of the Newfoundland and Labrador tourism industry will look like in a post-pandemic world.
They'll see if changes need to be made to layouts in their construction plans, and look at other activities that might entice tourists.
"We already had the idea to do eco-tourism and hiking. There's these great Damnable trails, [where a] huge volunteer segment of the population that maintains these trails, and the government has invested a lot of money — and we're right on the edge of these trails," he said.
Mierins said he's unsure when they'll be able to open to the public.
"But we're keeping very optimistic," he said.
"At the minimum, we will have our docks in and our boats in, so that we can at least take people on tours … Those are things that can be used for the local population within Newfoundland."
This coverage is part of Changing Course, a series of stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador that's taking a closer look at how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting local industries and businesses, and how they're adapting during these uncertain times to stay afloat.
With files from Anthony Germain and Ryan Cooke