Tobiano: alive and open for business despite background debts

Once pitched as a provincially significant tourism project, new managers at Tobiano are shifting marketing strategy to position the resort as an extension of Kamloops.

And despite the fact it is in a receivership, the resort is making small changes and expanding its service in a bid to integrate itself with the local market.

"We see our future in getting people in Kamloops to view Tobiano as just another Dallas," said Tobiano manager Quentin Granger.

"It's another place a few minutes from downtown. We have to overcome the psychology we're a long way away."

The resort fell into receivership in June last year.

Developer Mike Grenier, who sold his vision of a world-class "agri-tourism" resort on Kamloops Lake lost control and is no longer involved in management.

While management has changed, operations differ little from the past several years. The golf course continues to attract local duffers, the clubhouse restaurant is popular, the marine gas bar opens in season and Tobiano continues to lease out its lands and cattle herd to a neighbouring rancher, who also operates haylands at the property.

The resort is being operated by Bowra Group, a receiver-manager working for major creditor Bank of Montreal.

Granger is now heading Tobiano. The straight-talking Brit calls himself a "turnaround manager" - brought in by creditors to stop losses at projects in financial peril.

His No. 1 priority is to sell lots and reduce Tobiano's loss. The resort is encumbered with debts to major creditors of more than $25 million.

Despite that status, however, Granger and Tobiano's staff are working to make the resort a success while debts are sorted out through the courts.

Gone is the expensive head golf professional, replaced by three young and eager golf pros looking to list the resort on their resumes.

The resort also counts itself lucky to have George Moutsos running its Black Iron clubhouse restaurant. Moutsos comes from a family of Kamloops restaurateurs and has practiced his craft in New York and France.

In addition to catering to golfers, the restaurant also sees frequent business from motorcycle riders touring on the Trans-Canada Highway in addition to City residents making a trip west for lunch or dinner on the expansive patio with its sunset and lake views.

Rather than operating through the tourist and golf season, Black Iron is looking to expand on a limited schedule through the winter season. Moutsos said his restaurant did a limited number of special events last off-season, which proved popular.

It is also looking at bringing in entertainment to provide another attraction for the 20-minute drive west.

The reason the resort was created, of course, was to sell real estate. Granger said a major change in sales and marketing is now complete. Tobiano is using River City Realty and opening up sales to realtors in Kamloops, rather than the previous in-house arrangement.

Grenier pitched the project for its tourism potential. But Granger said reality is the project is attracting largely Kamloops buyers and golfers. While there is zoning for hotels, Granger said such a venture would prove difficult due to the resort's seasonality.

Granger estimated 90 per cent of buyers at Tobiano intend to live at the resort, some to retire and others to commute to Kamloops.

In the last six months of the year, since receivership, the resort sold seven lots worth about $2 million. Those costs contribute to balancing the books until a major buyer is eventually found.

"Tobiano is for people in Kamloops," Granger said. "Ninety per cent of people who build here are from Kamloops."

© Copyright 2018 Kamloops Daily News