Windsor

Wheatley Hotel's owner says business was picking up before explosion, but now faces uncertain future

A hotel owner in the area of downtown Wheatley, Ont., that's been closed off since last week isn't expressing optimism about the future of his business as investigations continue to find the source of the explosion that injured 20 people and destroyed two buildings.

Paul De Goey says his hotel had only been open couple of months before last week's blast

The sign for the Wheatley Hotel still stands beside the wreckage at the corner of Erie Street and Talbot Road in southwestern Ontario. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

A hotel owner in the closed-off area of downtown Wheatley, Ont., is not expressing optimism about the future of his business after last week's explosion that injured 20 people and destroyed two nearby buildings.

"It was really starting to take off, now it's just on hold, I guess," Paul De Goey said.

"There's ups and downs in every business, but this is just something we'd have never dreamt of." 

De Goey owns the Wheatley Hotel, right next to The Pogue on Talbot Road, a former pub that last Thursday's explosion turned into rubble. He said he had just finished building the new four-room hotel with a lounge attached, and it had only been open a couple of months before the blast.

Chatham-Kent municipality said two buildings were destroyed and about half a dozen buildings will need to be examined for structural integrity. 

De Goey has not been able to get past the barriers into the area to see his business up close, but looking at pictures, he believes it too is unsalvageable. 

"If it had been downtown Toronto, I don't believe it ever would have gotten this far."

De Goey said he and his business partner probably spent around $1 million building the new hotel, but now he's uncertain about the future.

"Now we have no direction of where we're going — are we going to be able to go forward with this?" he said. "There's just a lot of questions and nobody out here willing to give any answers." 

Wheatley Hotel owner Paul De Goey wonders if buildings in the area around the explosion will ever be able to be deemed safe again. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

He said he is concerned about the future of his business, but has concerns about the homeowners in the surrounding area. 

"If they don't deem these buildings or houses as safe, who's going to insure them, and if they can't get insurance, then the next phone call is going to be the financial institution. Who's going to finance a building that's uninsurable?" De Goey said. 

"Who's going to pay for all this?"

Timeline unknown

Chatham-Kent said it was working with Ontario's Office of the Fire Marshal and consulting with technical experts to "analyze current risks and consider adjustments to the evacuation area and detour routes".

April Rietdyk, general manager of community human services with the municipality, said their workers will meet with displaced families this week to look at longer-term plans for any who are unable to return to their homes in the near future. 

Wheatley, Ont., residents worry gas leak could cause another explosion

1 year ago
Duration 2:47
Residents of the small town of Wheatley, Ont., are afraid a persistent gas leak might cause another explosion, a day after a huge blast destroyed part of its downtown. Locals are exasperated with the situation that has gone unsolved for months.

"Some of the individuals that lived very, very close to that explosion site, they will certainly be out longer than some of the individuals who live kind of on the perimeter of that evacuation zone," she said. "It all is dependent on when that zone gets clear, and when utilities get turned back on and when people can return to their homes safely."

She said they've been given no indication of when that might be. 

Rietdyk added that, as of end of day Saturday, her workers have helped 75 families with everything from gift cards for food and clothing, to finding shelter. She said they've assisted well over a dozen families with hotels, but others are being given accommodations by community members.

"It's amazing to see the community step up and take care of their neighbours. It's really quite touching actually," she said.

The municipality had no update Sunday about the work being done at the site, but on Saturday said the situation remained unstable, and they were speaking with the province to bring in technical experts to find the source of the leak. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.

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