On a rainy day in late November, 300 people gather in the skeletal lobby of Niagara Falls, Ont.'s newest hotel, the Great Wolf Lodge. Slated to open in April 2006, the family-oriented lodge is Jimmy Pattison's latest venture. Pattison, who ranks fifth on our Rich 100 with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion, flew in for a sneak peek tour designed to give members of the community, government and media a taste of what the resort has in store. With its exposed pipes and beams, the lodge is far from complete. But Pattison looks happy as he inspects the site. “It's our first experience in the waterpark and hotel business,” he says, “so we'll see how it turns out.”
With a 100,000-square-foot indoor water park, theme rooms, an arcade, outdoor pool and a mini-golf course, the hotel is angling to become Niagara Falls' premier family destination. For more adult indulgences, it offers an Aveda spa, conference facilities, wireless networks and a fitness centre. Ripley's Niagara Water Park Resort LP, a Jim Pattison Group company, is spearheading the $200-million project through a license from Great Wolf Resorts Inc., which has six banner hotels in the United States and three more under construction. Niagara Falls is the first Canadian location. “We've been here a long time with Ripley's Believe It or Not, Louis Tussaud's [Wax Museum] and other things,” says Pattison. Aimed at families with children, the lodge seems like a logical addition to his stable of entertainment companies. “The more you bring to an area, the more it becomes a destination,” says Pattison.
Like other tourist attractions in Niagara Falls, Great Wolf will rely on American visitors for a good chunk of its business. But a U.S. proposal to require passports or other official documents for all travellers crossing the U.S.-Canada land border starting Dec. 31, 2007, has people worried. “I'm very concerned,” says Pattison. “It's a major Canadian issue along the border, at tourist areas in particular.” Does he have any idea how much of his revenue would be affected if the proposal passes? “No,” he says. “We'll have to wait and see. Most Americans don't have passports.”
After speaking with reporters on the lodge tour, Pattison poses with Bob Masterson, president of Ripley Entertainment Inc., and a large white wolf brought in for the occasion. The wolf takes a liking to the billionaire, licking his ears and the back of his head. Could it be an omen? If so, it seems Pattison and the Great Wolf Lodge are off to a strong start.