Stay in touch with NIHO!

US developers hope to revive B.C. ghost town

Bruce Constantineau, Vancouver Sun, January 25, 2005

The B.C. ghost town of Kitsault has been sold to U.S. developers who are now considering its possible reincarnation as a destination resort, a university town, or even a movie studio centre.

Virginia developer Shawn Weingast and partner Krishan Suthanthiran paid less than the $7-million asking price for the intact former mining community along Alice Arm on the remote northern coast.

"It's a beautiful town just waiting to be inhabited -- a community searching for people," Weingast said in a telephone interview from Springfield, Virginia. "We're not sure what it will become. Will it be a year-round community, or will people just want to stay there part time?

"Will a university or movie studio want to rent out the whole property? Those are the questions we'll be working on."

The purchase includes assets still in great condition more than 20 years after some 1,600 residents abandoned the town following the closure of the Climax molybdenum mine. Kitsault is a bumpy, 3.5-hour drive from Terrace along a rough road that's closed three or four months a year due to the heavy snowpack.

Weingast described it as a "turnkey" community with 90 single-family homes, seven apartment buildings with about 200 suites, mobile home foundations, two recreation centres, a hospital and a shopping centre. Caretakers have maintained the buildings over the years.

They're all located on 130 hectares of waterfront property surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Mining company Climax Canada sold the town to the U.S. developers after telling its realtor last year to put it on the market for $7 million and sell it before Dec. 31. The town was listed for sale for more than $23 million in 1992 but no deal was ever reached.

Niho Land & Cattle Company president Rudy Nielsen, who appraised and marketed the Kitsault property, said about 20 groups from all over the world considered acquiring the site before Weingast and Suthanthiran completed their deal.

Suthanthiran read about Kitsault being for sale while attending a conference in Halifax, and immediately called Weingast and asked him to check it out. Their company has developed several mixed-used properties in Maryland and Virginia, but they admit to absolutely no experience in buying and redeveloping empty ghost towns.

Nielsen said many potential buyers wanted to make a quick profit by fixing the Kitsault houses up and selling them off separately.

"But [these buyers] really want to sit back and look at the big picture before deciding what to do," he said.

Nielsen, who made an unsuccessful attempt to buy Kitsault in 1992, said he'd like Kitsault to become a centre for eco-tourism activity, where people arrive by boat or cruise ship and go on canoe trips, hikes and other excursions hosted by first nations guides.

"In the wintertime, you could switch your focus to heli-skiing and cross-country skiing," he said.

Weingast noted the Kitsault region also has tremendous saltwater and freshwater fishing opportunities, along with "amazing" wildlife viewing. He said he's coming to B.C. in two weeks to begin serious discussions with interested parties.

"We're going to work with first nations, the community and the Crown to determine what exactly will be the best way to turn on the lights of Kitsault," Weingast said.

He said his company will likely make any needed repairs to existing buildings, rather than demolish them and build again. "Unless a building is structurally unsound, we're not likely to demolish it," Weingast said.

"I'd rather add to the existing infrastructure, rather than take away from it."