Business in Vancouver, Paul Harris, June 7-15, 2005
Ambitious and potentially far-reaching, a business plan is taking shape to transform a B.C. mining ghost town into a magnet for corporate retreats and eco-tourism.
Having been listed for $7 million, Kitsault in northwestern B.C. was recently purchased for cash by Indian-born entrepreneur Krish Suthanthiran.
The deal includes approximately 90 houses and duplexes, seven apartment buildings, an equipped hospital, a large works yard, a local dock, a 22,000 square-foot shopping centre and two recreation centres
Suthanthiran is president of Best Medical International Inc., a Virginia based company that specializes in oncology and radiology products. He is part of a growing trend of wealthy American-based executives paying cash for ranches, fishing retreats, or, in Suthanthiran's case, an entire town.
"They're all paying cash," said Vancouver based property specialist Rudy Nielsen, who consulted on the sale of Kitsault, which is a float plane flight from Prince Rupert.
"It has really taken off in the past two years. Kitsault is just unique and there are people that just want to be able to say they own a town. I think he is going to fix up the infrastructure and then sell the houses off separately."
The town was once the site of a molybdenum mine, but its citizens left in the early 1980's when molybdenum values plunged. Since then, it has been occupied by caretakers and was finally listed for sale[...]on behalf of U.S. copper mining giants Phelps Dodge.
Suthanthiran bought Kitsault sight unseen.
"It is breathtaking and it is beautiful and our first goal is to restore the town and the infrastructure, to make sure it is functional," he said in an interview. "Those things have not been used for 20-plus years, and we need to get assessments of what else we need to add."
Suthanthiran's goal is to create an adventure playground. Sports fishing, fly fishing, kayaking and heli-skiing are on his roster of potential activities, built around the burgeoning popularity of ecotourism and Kitsault's potentially idyllic location as a corporate retreat.
"Corporate retreats are really popular in northern B.C. right now, added Mike Suen, one of three marketing students at the British Columbia Institute of Technology working with Suthanthiran on Kitsault concepts.
"It's popular for team-building and building relationships with clients. It is definitely one of the major options we have looked at."
Suen and student colleagues Ian Yates and Christie Ramsdale are due to present their findings to Suthanthiran over the next two months.
Kitsault is now under the ownership of Suthanthiran's subsidiary Kitsault Resorts Ltd, B.C.
For Suthanthiran, the deal was irresistible.
"It is like love at first sight. I thought it was a shame it was sitting there empty and that it had good potential. It is very exciting to see how quiet and peaceful it is. In order to live there the whole year, you have to have economic activity, but I think it will take some time to develop that.
Suthanthiran recently spent several days in B.C.'s northwest building a cohesive plan of action, and plans to return again to Vancouver in a few weeks.
With the properties restored, Suthanthiran anticipates at least 20 full-time staff will be employed to keep the town running smoothly.
A millionaire bachelor, Suthanthiran comes from a humble background. Raised by parents who ran a grocery store in southern India, his desire to study medicine and oncology was fuelled after his father developed cancer. Suthanthiran founded Best Medical in 1977 and also has real estate interests in the eastern U.S.