Mike Rink and his wife Marnie McEachern arrived in Kamloops from Regina 30 years ago in a pickup full of tools and pulling a trailer
Over the next 25 years, Rink would progress from building single-family homes to developing some of Kamloops most recognizable buildings, moving people downtown and growing a successful company.
A decade ago his buildings were pushed into foreclosure; he went through personal bankruptcy five years later.
But amid failure, Rink was rebuilding, boldly banking on a recovering B.C. economy and demand for everything from seniors' condominiums to resort properties and housing units aimed at empty nesters.
Today, Rink and McEachern's companies are again in a financial crisis, affecting everyone from banks to hundreds of subcontractors left unpaid from projects in Kamloops, the Shuswap, Okanagan and Squamish.
In a three-part series, The Daily News looks at Rink's roots, his building legacy, troubled financial history and how he grew so big, so fast after bankruptcy.
Today: Mike Rink's imprint is all over Kamloops but he was never far from financial turmoil and controversy.
Monday: In his wake, Rink's financial problems brought grief to many of those who worked for him.
Tuesday: Too big, too fast? New Future Building Group had few financial limits until it ran into the Great Depression.
They don't have his name on the exterior, but for anyone who has watched Kamloops' skyline silhouette grow over the past two decades, Mike Rink's signature is all over his buildings.
Typically earth tones or pink, projects built by Rink's New Future Building Corp. make extensive use of stucco on the exterior and have a desert-influenced, Mediterranean style, harkening back to the Plaza Hotel, one of the city's grandest buildings.
Arguably one of Kamloops' biggest builders from the 1990s onward, Rink became a household name when he made an ambitious but ultimately unsuccessful attempt in 1999 to partner with the City of Kamloops in a convention centre project for Lorne Street across from Interior Savings Centre.
In the space of 10 years, after moving here from Regina in the early '80s, Rink went from managing his parents' Travelodge and doing small construction projects to promoting a 250-room Hilton hotel, condominium project and 1,500-seat convention centre that would have required heavy annual subsidies from taxpayers.
That ambitious concept came on the heels of several successful multi-family projects constructed during a building boom in the early 1990s.
It was also a major triumph for Dave and Jean Rink, Mike's parents, who moved to Kamloops in 1979 to purchase the downtown motel. Several years before, they had temporarily lost their eldest son to one of North America's infamous cults.
Mike Rink confirms that as a young man he was a member of the Unification Church, whose followers were known as Moonies after their leader, Rev. Sun Myung Moon.
Rink's sister, Ann Sheridan, said Mike spent 10 months in San Francisco in the mid-1970s working with the church.
She said she recalls her mother and Rink's first wife, who was pregnant at the time, "pleading for his release" on a San Francisco television station.
Mike's father and brother Perry went to California in an attempt to "kidnap him," Sheridan said. But that also failed.
Eventually Mike came home to Regina, but the family wanted to ensure he wouldn't go back.
"My parents paid $25,000 for a deprogrammer (therapist trained in cult techniques) to come up from New York to convince him not to go back to the Moonies."
Rink said he doesn't hide the fact he was a follower of the church, adding that was more than three decades ago.
"I was 22 years old. It was an experience and I don't regret it... . I was travelling and that happened... . I'm a person who listens to everyone's ideas.
I'm not afraid of looking at things. It's my nature."
Rink started in construction in Regina doing small jobs, including basements.
He began building houses here and his success got him noticed with realtors and architects, who brought him more work.
That led to his first big project, Arbutus Estates, Kamloops' first gated community overlooking the Thompson River. From there he built a half dozen condominium projects, building his reputation and the company.
Today, after building many of Kamloops' major residential developments, and going through several controversies and financial setbacks, Mike Rink lives with his wife Marnie McEachern in a West End home assessed at $500,000.They've raised four children there.
He lives modestly, he says - "I've had the same carpet in my house for 25 years. "
SUCCESS AND SETBACKS IN THE CITY
In 1999, as he worked to convince the City of Kamloops to partner on the joint venture convention centre across from Riverside Park, Rink was also building two major residential projects in Kamloops.
In the midst of a small recession that gripped the province, Rink pressed ahead with the convention centre proposal, even as builders began slapping liens on Victoria Landing and Terravista - two of the largest residential projects in Kamloops worth tens of millions of dollars.
It would become another of his signatures, then and now: pushing ahead with ever-larger development plans despite a slowing and troubled economy - economies that on two occasions within the space of 10 years pushed his projects into financial peril.
"He wants to build every building big and fabulous," said Sheridan, who worked with her brother for two years, in 2004 and 2005, before they parted ways.
But Rink said his failure at Victoria Landing was due to the lender pulling the trigger too early. He said he was in a position to complete the building with another $200,000 loan.
But the lender was backstopped with a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. loan. It chose to start foreclosure, which Rink said guaranteed payment through the mortgage insurance from the Crown corporation.
"They (lender) took a $5 million loss, paid for by the government of Canada."
Today, Rink and his wife, along with a family trust controlled by them, face more than $85 million in debts. New Future Group-related firms were forced to seek protection last month under the federal Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) as bills went unpaid.
Controlled by Rink and McEachern, New Future has six Interior B.C. projects and properties, with a seventh in Squamish. Work has halted on all of them due to a "liquidity crisis," or inability to pay bills and loan demands.
The Kamloops builder wants to restructure projects through the CCAA. Detailed plans and assessments are underway through a special monitor.
Those revamped plans - a bid to right New Future's sinking ship - will be presented to major creditors, including banks and mortgage companies in a process that would see Rink stay at the helm.
Despite various project setbacks, veteran city businessman Frank Walsh said Rink is known in local business circles for his vision.
"You hear it talked about: he's got an amazing ability to take a piece of land, change the concept and make it work."
The City's chief administrator, Randy Diehl, was in charge of development in Kamloops at City Hall in the early '90s when many of Rink's projects were built.
He said even today Rink possesses a creative development vision that has moved more people into the downtown core and North Kamloops town centre.
"He first built at Victoria and Fifth (Monarch Court) when there were very few projects with a mix of commercial and residential."
At Victoria Landing "it was a different kind of project than we'd seen," Diehl said.
"It was more reflective of the Vancouver market at the time... . He has a different creative slant. He's always trying to find ways to make things happen."
That vision has resulted in a portfolio of major projects he has successfully completed. Those include multi-family buildings in Kamloops and seniors' complexes here, in Chase and in Regina.
But some of those projects in Kamloops have not been without controversy.
Kamloops Coun. Jim Harker recalls Rink telling him before a variance hearing four years ago that he neglected to put sundecks on the Renaissance Retirement Concept building he developed on Tranquille Road to protect seniors from falling off.
Rink was forced to go to council after the building was complete because decks were shown in plans approved by the City.
Despite growing public opposition to the subsidy, and until word of his financial troubles at Victoria Landing and Terravista emerged, Rink convinced Kamloops council in 1999 to partner with him and provide what was at first supposed to be a $250,000 subsidy annually for 10 years. That subsidy continued to grow as the deal advanced.
At Terravista, he was later hired as the project supervisor to complete the building by the purchaser who had bought the project from bankruptcy proceedings started when his company couldn't pay its bills.
Another of Rink's sisters, Connie Jameson, who also works in construction, including a redevelopment of the Arnelia on Fourth Avenue downtown, said her brother is confident and persistent.
"He's got great vision. He's very forceful, a good talker."
But Jameson also had a falling out with her brother. She said his track record in Kamloops, unpaid debts and controversial development, made it too hard for her to get approvals from City Hall and council.
"It's hard with City council. That's really who stopped me. They didn't stop him."
For the Renaissance, Harker said he didn't like Rink promising one thing and then coming back with another, using safety as the reason.
"I had 30 years in the fire department and I've never seen a senior citizen fall off a deck."
Harker voted against allowing the variance, but the majority of council agreed with planners that it was a mere oversight and granted permission to operate.
Planners also said Rink opted to finish the building in more expensive stucco, rather than vinyl shown on the plans.
At Mission Hill, two highly visible half-finished buildings off Summit Drive, Rink was denied rezoning three years ago due to concerns about traffic and a reduction in typical parking for 220 units at the proposed $70-million residential building.
But with one councillor absent the first time - current mayor Peter Milobar - councillors opted for a second vote and the project received the go-ahead.
City administrator Diehl said Rink's persistence is not unlike that of any successful developer. But his approach is unique.
If his plans are turned down "he'll come back with a creative angle in a different way."
CONTROVERSY AT THE SHUSWAP
While Rink has been successful in Kamloops in convincing council and City Hall of his plans, evidenced by rezoning success, it has been a different story in the Shuswap.
Rink was denied zoning on two projects, including the controversial West Beach Village in 2008. The proposed 218-unit resort and marina project became a national issue due to its proximity to the world-famous Adams River salmon run. Hundreds of opponents stacked a public hearing and the regional district received letters from across Canada begging local politicians to turn it down.
Under that pressure, the Columbia-Shuswap Regional District board denied rezoning. Undaunted, Rink opted not to sell the parcel to the province, which wanted to add it to neighbouring Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park.
But Rink said he sat down with his wife and staff. While they still believed in the project, all agreed the negative publicity was causing problems.
"It was affecting our projects elsewhere. We called the negotiator and said 'we'll take the offer... .. Two days later they said 'Mike, I've been instructed to inform you there's no more discussion and no more offer.'"
He speculates the $18-million appraisal, which he called far too low, was unpalatable to government when it was trying to show an image of restraint.
"This happened after collapse of the world economy... . The idea of spending $18 million... to a lot of people that would have seemed irresponsible. The politics had changed."
With that prospect of picking up $18 million from the province gone, Rink scrapped plans for condominiums and instead continued developing the former waterfront campground on the premise of 199-year leases for RV lots, anchored by a storage garage and deck - all permitted under the current zoning.
In the absence of any laws preventing it, Rink also put more than 100 buoys in the lake in front of the property, angering environmentalists and local residents.
On the other side of the lake, one of New Future's companies already completed construction on 23 luxury townhouse units at Eagle Bay, called Carmel Cove, before the project was taken to a public hearing for a residential rezoning.
Similarly to its position on West Beach Village, the regional district board also denied residential zoning for Carmel Cove. Rink then chose to market the properties under existing zoning, which allowed part-time living, with the remainder for rental, similar to a ski resort.
But financial documents filed by Rink as part of the CCAA process show only two units, plus a quarter interest in another, have been sold. They were marketed at the real estate peak two years ago at $1 million each.
Carmel Cove has $22.8 million worth of debt registered against it. Another $500,000 is owed to suppliers and for unpaid taxes.
West Beach Village has $15 million worth of debt to lenders. Another $1.7 million is owed to contractors for work done on the property.
Rink's vision wasn't restricted to Kamloops and the Shuswap. At the same time he was applying for rezonings and developing projects here, he was also buying up property in the Okanagan and Kootenays for resort projects and developing another senior housing centre in Squamish.
All were in various stages, from construction to bare land, when the worldwide downturn happened late in 2008. New Future had 125 employees.
Today he has five and is trying to restructure and convince creditors to give New Future another chance.
Mike Rink provided comments on a number of aspects of this series, but declined an in-depth interview with The Daily News. He submitted the following written statement:
"Our company is working very hard to ensure the appropriate steps are taken to complete the projects we have on the go. We are doing so in the most disciplined fashion through the courts and with a courts delegated observer overseeing our work. At a later date, we will have more information to announce."
RINK BROUGHT LIFE TO DOWNTOWN
Since he began developing major residential and commercial buildings in the mid-'90s, Mike Rink's New Future Group has made a long lasting contribution to Kamloops' downtown.
The company boasts it has constructed 500 homes, the majority of them in Kamloops where the company is headquartered.
The list starts with Monarch Court, at Seventh Avenue and Victoria Street, which reintroduced to a neglected downtown core the commercial-residential mix favoured by City planners.
Another notable building in the city's core is Desert Gardens Seniors Centre, which burned down New Year's Eve, in 1996, when it was largely completed.
Construction began anew the following spring. Today Desert Gardens stands as a successful downtown seniors residential and recreation centre, bringing more residents downtown who walk to services and shops, boosting the local economy.
In addition to the Victoria Landing tower downtown - the only residential tower built here in the past two decades - Rink also built the Terravista condos just east of downtown. Beside that development, and in a similar architectural style, he constructed the Loma Bella project directly to the east.
He also developed the retail and office commercial building at 348 Victoria Street.
Outside of downtown, Rink companies are responsible for a phase of Arbutus Estates, which New Future calls Kamloops' first gated community, as well as the North Kamloops Renaissance Retirement building, which brought more people to the North Shore town centre.
Mike Rink and his wife Marnie McEachern arrived in Kamloops from Regina 30 years ago in a pickup full of tools and pulling a trailer