Buzz Talk with Michael Sneyd

TORONTO, JULY 24, 2014 – To say Michael Sneyd is an advocate of the outdoors is understating it. The CEO of Skyline International, Canada’s leading owner and developer of resort-inspired communities, has been slipping on skis ever since he was 10 years old. From working as an instructor in the Rockies to acting as though Deerhurst is his second home, it makes sense that Sneyd has destination development down to an art.
Lakeside Lodge is one of the company’s latest ventures. The new collection of waterfront residences at Deerhurst Resort in Muskoka is the first new condo project to take shape at the resort in over 25 years on the last parcel of waterfront land. We chat with Sneyd about creating ideal waterfront retreats for residents and how the Skyline’s newest community will soon fit the bill:
BuzzBuzzHome: You started working on resort-inspired communities 29 years ago. How does the development process differ from that of a more urban residential project?
Michael Sneyd: Resort-inspired communities are beautiful and undisturbed, so residents are in touch with the environment. Because of those factors, you’re also dealing with local municipalities who work part-time, are short of staff and funds, and take a long time to approve projects. So the planning process in a municipality in an urban setting is much faster and more defined than one in a resort-setting. It takes much longer to get things approved in cottage country.
The biggest single difference is that there’s tremendous emphasis on the environment. The regional conservation authorities get involved, the regional governments get involved — it makes for better development in my opinion. We developers have to manage our projects and the design with as minimal an impact on the environment as possible.
BBH: Name one thing you’ve learned throughout your work experience that you keep in mind for every project.
MS: The biggest thing is to offer a wide variety of product. In a resort community, you’re appealing to buyers that want everything from a hotel room nightly to a vacation club that they can pre-buy for the next 50 years, to a condo or townhome buyer. We have to cater to each of these markets all at the same time.
With Lakeside Lodge, we have a wide variety of unit sizes. Initially, if you were looking at a purely investor-driven market, you would see many one bedrooms and bachelors to keep the sizes as small as possible. But with this development, we recognize that a large number of our buyers will be owner-users who demand variety.
BBH: Can you talk a bit more about Skyline’s team and their resort experience?
MS: Skyline is a unique company in that we own and operate hospitality. We own Deerhurst Resort and operate the hotel and all of its amenities. We own Horseshoe Resort, the Blue Mountain Village and two hotels in downtown Toronto — so we know how to own and manage hospitality.
At the same time, we’re developers. It’s very rare, because most hotel companies are afraid to do anything with development, and most developers want to stay far away from trying to figure out how to put heads in beds and run restaurants. That gives us a unique position in the marketplace, because we can offer services and amenities that no one else can. A developer can put up a condominium in cottage country, but they can’t offer the services that we can, because we have a resort right there.
The other thing is, from a development perspective, we make sure to buy resorts that have existing amenities and facilities. A new golf course can cost $25 million to develop, whereas with our properties at Deerhurst, we already own one championship golf course and another lakeside course. We own five pools, tennis courts, waterfront facilities and a treetop trekking franchise. There’s even a ski hill next door and all of our buyers have immediate access.
BBH: List three things that every resort community needs to succeed.
MS: The first is the resort. You need a beautiful setting in an existing resort with many amenities. The second is what I call a home-care program. It’s a worry-free ownership that goes beyond standard maintenance and landscaping. It’s a personal relationship between the condo owner and us as the operator, such that the owner could call up our concierge and ask them to stock the fridge and make sure the air conditioning is working before they arrive.
The third thing is a quality rental program. Nowadays, many owners want the comfort of knowing they can make some income and defray some of the costs of owning a mortgage. Many other developments require you to be in the rental pool, and you’re given a certain number of weeks a year that you can use it. Skyline has none of that. It’s completely optional. The ability to customize your usage and rental options is key in this marketplace.
BBH: What can you tell us about the exclusive SkyLife Club and Exchange Access programs?
MS: We believe you buy more than just the bricks and mortar of a condominium. You’re buying a lifestyle, and that lifestyle is an active one that takes advantage of all sorts of activities. SkyLife Club is a resort activity program that gives its members access to things like skiing, golfing and mountain biking. We also give price reductions on spa treatments, food and beverage and access to rooms. The members of SkyLife can even get discounts on our Toronto hotels. If they’re visiting the downtown and want a place to relax, we have concierge lounges at each of our properties.
Exchange Access is something that only Skyline can offer as well. Everybody takes a vacation, and people often wonder if they should own a second home. They think if they own a second property they’ll always go there instead of vacationing elsewhere. With this, you can have both. Lakeside Lodge has been registered by RCI, which is the largest vacation club in the world. This means that condo owners can hand their unit to RCI for three weeks a year and exchange it for a villa in Tuscany, for instance, or a condo in Paris.
BBH: Tell us about Skyline’s plans to develop a new village centre at Deerhurst and how it will benefit property and condo owners at Lakeside Lodge.
MS: We know all about village centres because we own 50 per cent of the village and manage the other half at Blue Mountain. We understand how important it is to have a village centre as part of a greater community. We took a beautiful site overlooking Peninsula Lake and we’ve designed a main street so that when you walk down, you’re facing the water. When you buy at Lakeside Lodge, you’re steps from the lake.
This is one of the only places in Muskoka that gives you that view. Even Blue Mountain, as beautiful as it is, it’s hard to see the water. We’re going to design a mini Blue Mountain village with retail on the ground floor and residential above. It will attract artisans and local mom-and-pop style retailers. These will be stores you can’t find elsewhere.
BBH: Paint a picture for us: what will Lakeside Lodge look like once complete, and what inspired its design?
MS: We selected the best architect we could find: Richard Wengle. He’s done a remarkable job coming up with an overall design that’s in keeping with the style of Muskoka. It takes advantage of the outdoors with wide-open balconies and tremendous views on both sides of the building. He created a design that wraps around the waterfront and envelopes the pool, spa areas, terrace and landscaping. The entire waterfront area will be redesigned and reimagined as part of the landscaping in front of the project.
We also worked with DesignAgency. They’ve been able to capture the essence of the local area with a slightly modern interpretation of a historic, Muskoka indoor feel. This is the site that the original lodge, which is over 100 years old, was on. For the first time, we built a model suite on the site where you can appreciate the units’ views.
BBH: Let’s talk amenities. What can residents take advantage of at Lakeside Lodge that they wouldn’t be able to do elsewhere?
MS: In terms of Deerhurst itself, we’ve got the five pools, tennis courts, hiking and biking trails, in addition to everything else that’s been mentioned. The world’s best athletes comes to Deerhurst every spring because of the natural setting. For the first time next year, there will be a full Ironman triathlon. Over and above that, we’ve held the biggest pond hockey tournament in the world and the under 16 championships. Huntsville also has a very historic downtown that’s minutes from Deerhurst. And we’re right beside Algonquin Park, which is one of the most visited parks in Canada.
Thanks for buzzing with us, Michael!
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