Whitehorse icon changes hands

Doug Thomas still expects to have his early morning coffee waiting for him at the Gold Rush Inn. But the veteran Whitehorse hotelier no longer owns…

Doug Thomas still expects to have his early morning coffee waiting for him at the Gold Rush Inn.

But the veteran Whitehorse hotelier no longer owns the Main Street building that he built with his own hands 27 years ago.

“My own money, my own hands,” Thomas said Thursday as he looked up at the four-storey structure that began as a 23-bedroom lodging in the 1970s.

“It’s not easy to let go.”

Thomas has had several offers over the years, but it wasn’t until autumn 2005 that he found the right buyer.

“I’m very proud that the negotiation was in favour of both of us,” Thomas said as he handed the hotel keys over to Piers McDonald, chair of the Northern Vision Development limited partnership that purchased the Gold Rush for an undisclosed amount.

“If you’d like to pay me,” Thomas half-joked, his gold teeth flashing in a smile when McDonald asked him if there was anything he wanted to say on such an historic occasion.

“I’m glad that it’s Yukoners that are going to be running and maintaining the Klondike gold rush theme,” said Thomas, after McDonald handed over a folded cheque.

“The rooms are already filling up, now that word is out that I’m out,” he joked.

“I’m not leaving the country, I’m just going to take a couple of days and go fishing.”

Despite McDonald’s past political affiliation, the Gold Rush is not about to become an NDP-only hangout, he said.

“We bought it for obvious reasons — it’s a good business, the economy is robust and there’s good room for growth,” said McDonald, a former premier. Nearby stood  his business partner and former cabinet colleague Trevor Harding.

“There’s no red square here,” McDonald said, in reference to the High Country Inn lounge, where NDP supporters have been known to meet.

“This facility has its clientele, and it will be nurtured through its service.

“This is a private-sector business. I know this territory and this city is vigorously partisan, and way more than it should be, but that partisanship does not carry into the business world and will not carry forward in this hotel.”

The Northern Vision group of about 60 investors, led by McDonald, has several holdings in downtown Whitehorse.

It owns 3.2 hectares at the north end of the Whitehorse waterfront, where shovels went into the ground Thursday, to build a 126 square-metre retail-commercial development.

“There are some office space tenants and some room for leasing,” said McDonald.

Northern Vision owns several smaller parcels of waterfront land and 8.8 hectares in the Marwell industrial district, he said.

“We have an apartment building up in Hillcrest and some auxiliary properties around town.”

The Gold Rush sale did not include the hotel’s three custom Hummers. They remain Thomas’s property.

But the sale did include the adjacent property, which extends from the south side of Main Street to the west side of Sixth Avenue, said McDonald.

Northern Vision essentially owns the entire block, except for the Town and Mountain Hotel, he said.

“We prepared to make some new investments in this part of the neighbourhood.

“We’re thankful that Doug had the foresight some years back to acquire properties adjacent to the hotel. That allows for some good expansion opportunities for us.

“We’ll certainly take advantage of that.”

However, the Gold Rush is not about to change its image, said Dikran Zabunyan, the new manager of the 101-room hotel.

“I’m going to keep the legacy of Doug,” said Zabunyan, a veteran hotel manager and former professional basketball player from Turkey who arrived in Whitehorse from Ontario two weeks ago to take the Gold Rush job.

The Klondike memorabilia that fill nooks and crannies throughout the hotel will still be on display, he said.

“We’re going to make all rooms internet-accessible.”

As for Thomas, he plans to retire, and take care of his health.

He won’t be greeting guests from behind the front counter, but Thomas will still be around the Gold Rush, keeping an eye on things, he said.

“They’ve got a vision, like my vision,” he said.

“I wanted to build right to the clay banks, and I own all the land.

“They bought that, and they want to continue my vision.

“I’m prepared to stay and help in whatever way.”

So Thomas will be around often, looking for his 4 a.m. coffee.