James Warburton with his business partner and wife Corrine Warburton are the new owners of the Highliner Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre in Prince Rupert, purchased from the Aquilini Investment Group, in July 2021. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

Highliner Hotel back in local hands from Aquilini sale

Plaza facelift and reno’s to the 94 room hotel and conference centre are underway

The Highliner hotel, a local high-rise building shaping the skyline of Prince Rupert, has returned to locally owned hands with the sale of the property to hometown business owners, James Warburton, and his wife Corrine Warburton.

The purchase from Vancouver-based Aquilini Investment Group has taken more than a year to reach closing with some components still in the process of being transferred, James Warburton said.

“I’m very grateful to Aquilini. They’ve been through the whole process with us and we’ve been working well with them. We continue to work on all the transition pieces that happen. There are a lot of moving parts involved in the transfer.”

The 94 room hotel which features a restaurant and fitness centre, 30 residential apartments as well as main floor commercial plaza space was constructed in 1980 and has been owned by the Aquilini group since 1993. The property was sold to the Warburtons for an undisclosed amount. However, BC Assessment lists the total property value at $5,329,100, with the building valued at $5,067,00 and the land valued at $262,100 as of the 2021 assessment.

“Everyone is asking [how much] but we are not telling,” Corrine Warburton told The Northern View, “Even our parents are asking. We are not telling.”

Corrine said ‘everyone’ is also asking about the clock that used to sit on the roof for many years during the 1980s. There was even a Go-Fund-Me-type campaign to bring the clock back, but the hotel was not associated with it. They are not bringing back the clock, she said.

“It was like a landmark. You’d be downtown and look up, and there it was. We did look into it, but it was going to be hundreds of thousands. It is just not a cost-efficient endeavour.”

Asked why they chose the Highliner as their most recent property investment, Corrine said it was a natural choice and everything they have accomplished so far has circled back to Prince Rupert starting with their backgrounds in hospitality and tourism. Back in the day, Corrine worked in a spa and James worked as a tourism boat captain on the Prince Rupert boat, Parma. For years, in the hotel lobby, there has hung a picture of the boat.

“It’s a joke with my wife that we bought this place just so I could have that picture downstairs,” he said.

“We started off having some success at our other properties, and we were beginning to be a bit squished for space for people who wanted to stay with us as returning customers and new customers. It made us start to think about acquiring more hotel rooms somewhere,” Corrine said.

The Warburtons, who hail from Prince Rupert, are not novices to the hotel and the short-term hospitality industry. The couple started out purchasing accommodations when they lived in Victoria and quickly staked their claim in the property development sector of the Northcoast.

Their first equity purchase in 2003 was a duplex in Prince Rupert and was directed by the high costs of property in Victoria. Property prices in Prince Rupert were not where they are now, the couple said. They still own their first purchase, in which they live today.

From there, numerous property sales ventured into more residential purchases finally leveraging into the obtainment of First Ave. Executive Suites in 2013, and then the Ridge Hotel and Suites in 2019.

“This is our biggest project to date. Prior to this, we have revitalized buildings in Prince Rupert that have been vacant, and started hotels from the ground up,” Corrine said, “We are excited to support the City of Prince Rupert’s official community plan and contribute to the revitalization of the Midtown District.”

Modifications and renovations to upgrade the hotel and conference centre fall under a ten-year plan for the couple, with most work estimated to be completed in three to five years. The new owners wasted no time polishing their new gem as work is already underway, including freshening up the exterior with power washing.

“Just freshening it up from the outside will make such a difference for walking around downtown, just to see the change. It’s a super visible building. So to have it look clean and maintained is is going to be a benefit. It will fit the vision that the city council has for downtown,” they said.

The long-term goal is to upgrade all of the rooms starting on the first two floors of 24 rooms to be styled in a modern, light beachy vibe with custom-made hotel furniture, Corrine said. The artwork will be canvasses from local photographers.

“When we say upgrading, we are doing the painting and the carpet. We’re getting all new furniture, but we’re also doing all the plumbing as well. Everything behind the walls is going get redone including some electrical and technology upgrades.”

“Our first main focus is really with a project this size, to take one bite at a time,” she said.

“All these improvements will respect the current tenants and staff,” Warburton said, “And all staff, including management, will stay on … It’s great to have their knowledge and dedication to help this move forward. Many people have worked here for 25 years. They are going to be the key to our success.”

The entrepreneur couple admits the hotel and plaza purchase is the first time they have enlisted in an existing operational enterprise. They have previously purchased only vacant properties needing development with James doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’.

“So, this is an exciting project to take on just because there’s already an existing business in place. It’s already making money. We just have to expand on what it’s already doing and bring our own vision to it,” they said.


K-J Millar | Journalist
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James Warburton with his business partner and wife Corrine Warburton are the new owners of the Highliner Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre in Prince Rupert, purchased from the Aquilini Investment Group, in July 2021. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)

James Warburton with his business partner and wife Corrine Warburton are the new owners of the Highliner Plaza Hotel and Conference Centre in Prince Rupert, purchased from the Aquilini Investment Group, in July 2021. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)