Efforts to sell Liscombe Lodge continue as sector faces disastrous season

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
April 22 2020

LISCOMBE MILLS – Facing an uncertain future, Liscombe Lodge is no closer today to finding a buyer than it was a year ago when Develop Nova Scotia hired an international broker to bring the provincially owned property to the global market.

“We have extended our contract with Avison Young on a month-to-month basis,” Kelly Rose, a senior communications manager at the provincial Crown corporation, told the Guysborough Journal in an email. “The Province remains committed to finding the right investor that is in the best interest of the community, the tourism industry and the Nova Scotia economy.”

That was essentially the same message Develop NS President and CEO Jennifer Angel posted to a government website 13 months ago, on March 20, 2019. “We have now awarded a 10-month contract to Avison Young, an international broker with offices in Halifax,” she stated at the time.

“The property will be listed shortly,” the post said. “The broker will support the process to find qualified buyers and assist in negotiating offers to purchase. Our objective remains to achieve a sale that provides good value for the province, the taxpayers and the community.”

That task may be proving trickier than expected. This is not the first time Develop N.S., and its predecessor, Waterfront Development Corp., has attempted to sell the iconic 68-room resort and meetings complex. In 2015, the property drew a bid of precisely $1, “as long as the Province provided an additional 90,000 acres of woodland,” according to a CBC report.

Another effort in 2016 also failed, Angel said in her statement last year, “Following a request for proposals, negotiations with a preferred proponent were unsuccessful.” Hiring a broker, she said, “allows us the flexibility to take advantage of potential new interest in the market and a growing tourism sector, in a more flexible, less onerous process.”

COVID-19, however, is hammering the very market on which Liscombe Lodge relies. According to the World Trade Organization last month, the pandemic could cut international tourism travel by between 20 and 30 per cent this year alone, resulting in losses topping $450 billion (USD). Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum predicts the industry could shed 50 million jobs worldwide.

In Canada, the effects are already being felt from coast to coast. The Rocky Mountain resort community of Banff, Alberta lost 4,500 jobs in just one week, its mayor Karen Sorenson told Canadian Press in March. “Our hearts break for these kids who came out here for an adventure,” she said. “It’s kind of all disappeared for them.”

In Nova Scotia, where the leisure travel industry generates more than $2.5 billion in annual revenue ($158 million from gate receipts and taxes flow directly into provincial government coffers), loss estimates vary. But they are huge and unprecedented.

Destination Cape Breton, for example, has estimated the drop in tourism revenues on the Island will top $95 million in the 12 weeks ending June 30 – before the busiest part of the season actually begins. “The whole industry is probably between $400 and $500 million, so spring is just a part of it,” the association’s CEO Terry Smith told the Cape Breton Post last month.

Even without COVID-19’s latent economic effects, the provincial government’s determination to rid itself of Liscombe Lodge comes after years of multi-million-dollar investments to maintain and upgrade it. According to the 2018 request for proposals from real estate brokers, “This proposed divestiture is driven by the belief that the private sector is better positioned to develop and market the property successfully.”

The request for proposals also stated that one appraisal, commissioned by the Province in 2012, determined the property’s fair market value was “NIL”.