Who knows better than the big boss?

frustrated by the mafia rumours swirling around the Skky Hotel. Sporting unlaced work boots and a Toronto firefighters T-shirt, the Italian…

frustrated by the mafia rumours swirling around the Skky Hotel.

Sporting unlaced work boots and a Toronto firefighters T-shirt, the Italian patriarch was priming ceilings in the bare rooms.

The new, high-end lodging across from the airport is still under construction and months behind schedule.

It was supposed to open in June.

But labour was hard to find, said president and director of operations Dikran Zabunyan.

“These challenges are new — finding qualified people, people not showing up for work for various reasons,” said the Toronto-based resort manager.

It was so hard to get workers that Zabunyan and his partner Frank Calandra, a Toronto lawyer, brought their own labourers north.

Frank’s father — Carmen — is one of them.

“He is the majority owner,” said Zabunyan.

“He has more than a million dollars and here he is working on the hotel.”

The story shouldn’t be all about the mafia, like other media reports, Carmen told a News photographer.

The mafia business is all resolved, added Zabunyan.

“I think what’s happened, it was basically, we were unfortunately, mistakenly labeled as someone different,” he said.

“There is a name that we don’t even know … one of our relative’s name is similar to somebody — he was called Capa Greco.

“And we have someone in our family called Capa Greco — not in my family, I’m not Italian.

“It was one of the investors.

“But the Capa Greco was not related to this Capa Greco …”.

And is Capa Greco still an investor in Skky Hotel?

“The guy is not an investor in this place,” said Zabunyan. “But somebody checked the files, the mortgage files or something, of the guy who had the hotel initially.

“So, he borrowed money from this Capa Greco guy, but Capa Greco is not the same Capa Greco.”

But is Capa Greco an investor?

“Never here, not in hotels — it was in housing,” said Zabunyan.

“I think this Capa Greco lent some money to a guy, who was, at one time, dealing with this hotel — but it’s not the same Capa Greco.

“So they searched this Capa Greco and went to the RCMP files and said, Capa Greco.”

The mistaken identity issue won’t impact business, said Zabunyan.

“This is gorgeous.”

With wires hanging out of the walls, plaster dust, rough plywood floors and fireplaces wrapped in plastic, the Skky doesn’t look like much.

But it’ll be a first-class hotel, he said.

“Everything is logoed.”

The bed frames, chairs, slippers, even the hardware will have the Skky logo, he said.

“We got all these logoed items from China.”

Each room will have air conditioning, heated floors, and some will have Jacuzzis and fireplaces.

Although the old, “disgusting” rooms have been gutted, green standards were not part of the renovations.

“No, not that,” said Zabunyan.

But every bed will have a duvet, he said.

“Everything is brought in.”

The wooden bar for the Volaré Euro Bar and Caffé is coming all the way from Italy, he said.

And the furniture is leather.

The chic project came together by accident.

Calandra’s company, Stacroz Investments Inc., loaned money to a guy who bought the Airport Inn.

When he defaulted on the loan, Stacroz ended up with the property.

That’s when Zabunyan, who was managing the Gold Rush Inn, got involved.

“Frank (Calandra) approached me,” he said.

The two guys didn’t know each other, but both were from Toronto and they got talking.

“I convinced him to take over the project,” said Zabunyan.

“We started from scratch to build a luxury, very high-end hotel in the territory, because it doesn’t exist.”

Yukon hotels are caught in a 1970s time warp, said Skky designer and creative director Tom Wegrzyn from Toronto.

“I would not have my wife or friends stay in any of the hotels, because they are very rundown. It’s not something I’m used to after living in Los Angeles, Toronto and New York — you’re used to certain standards, and when you go to the Yukon, even if you go for nature, you still want to stay in a place that’s nice and comfortable.”

A Marvel Comics illustrator and independent artist, Wegrzyn has designed some Toronto stores, but Skky is by far his most ambitious endeavour.

“The whole idea was to give them something a little bit more modern, which Whitehorse doesn’t really have,” he said, mentioning the custom furniture and the logos on the water stoppers in the sinks.

Good branding makes people come back, said Wegrzyn, who chose the name Skky because he could actually see it when he landed in the Yukon for the first time.

“I live in L.A., Toronto and New York, where the sky is usually hazy grey because of the pollution,” he said.

“And I got up here and said, ‘Wow, the sky actually is blue.’”

The name also fits with the hotel’s airport location, he added.

Listed as one of Whitehorse’s top three places to stay in Air Canada’s June En Route magazine, people are already talking about Skky.

“But unfortunately we don’t have a product yet,” said Wegrzyn.

“The hotel will be top notch, it’s just a matter of getting it done. Because of the labour issues, it’s been hard getting workers, but once it’s done, this is going to be something Whitehorse hasn’t seen.”

Zabunyan plans to work some front-desk shifts himself, and drive his guests to the airport.

It will give him a better feel for the needs of his clients and a chance to establish a rapport.

“After all, who knows better than the big boss,” he said with a grin.

The hotel’s distance from the downtown core doesn’t worry Zabunyan.

“The advantage we have to downtown is, I could walk to the airport,” he said. “Some of the busiest hotels in the world are airport hotels.”

And even if the Whitehorse airport only sees a few planes a day, there’s still the highway, he said.

If Skky were bigger, Zabunyan would be worried about business, but it only has 32 rooms.

“And I think word of mouth will travel that it’s a high-end hotel,” he said.

The ill-stocked old convenience store and the grimy public shower attached to the inn have also been gutted and are being used as storage for the customized Italian furniture, drapes, bedding and towels.

The store may be converted into luxury suites, to accommodate the mining companies that have already expressed an interest in monthly packages, said Zabunyan.

There were also plans for a second restaurant, to complement the Italian fare that will be served in Volaré. But finding more staff could prove difficult, he said.

The other option is to open it again as a convenience store, so area residents could pick up staples without having to make the trip downtown.

Limping over to a sky-blue mini-van, Zabunyan was talking plasma TVs and homemade Italian food.

Oh, and there’s a sky-blue convertible on the way, he added, smiling.

Zabunyan hurt his knee playing basketball in Toronto, where he’s overseeing a 55-room boutique hotel for his friend.

The pro player, originally from Armenia, just can’t stop shooting hoops.

But he swears the Yukon’s changing him.

“I’m not as hyper as I was,” he said.

“When I first came, I wore flamboyant shirts. People told me I had to tone it down.”

But now, Calandra wants him to turn it back on.

“Frank said, ‘This is the kind of hotel that needs flamboyance,’” said Zabunyan.

Although he had to cancel the summer bookings, Zabunyan is confident the hotel will be ready for its first guests, booked for September 7th.

It’ll be a soft opening, he said.

Rates start at $129, and climb to $295 a night for the presidential suites.

The Skky is funded privately, said Zabunyan.

Stacroz makes its capital lending money to people, he added.

But Calandra’s dad made his money as a barber.

The mafia stuff is ridiculous, said Wegrzyn. 

“I’m actually Polish and I’m not into organized crime,” he said.

“People talk, and all of a sudden we feel like celebrities because we came down from Toronto and we’re doing something that’s never been done before —  we’re putting a modern spin on a place with run-down hotels.”

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