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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ghost Town to Become Millionaire's Candyshop

KITSAULT, British Columbia -- The Millionaire Who Bought a Town likes to save a buck. He breakfasts at McDonald's, flies economy class and asks for a doggie bag when he doesn't finish his meal at motel restaurants.

But when, several months ago, the Virginia-based businessman saw a news story about a whole town being for sale in remote western Canada, he called the same day to offer a check for $5.7 million -- sight unseen.

Today, Krishnan Suthanthiran owns Kitsault, a ghost town abandoned by miners' families more than 22 years ago and preserved like a museum display of suburbia -- though one through which bears occasionally wander. Suthanthiran, who was born in India and made his fortune selling medical devices and real estate in the Washington area, said he jumped at the chance to buy Kitsault because, "one, it is beautiful up there, and two, I couldn't believe it wasn't being used. I said if nobody else could figure out what to do with a town, I can."

His ideas for transforming the empty community, located in a majestic natural setting, tumble forth: Kitsault will become an eco-tourist destination or an artist's colony. He will hold conferences, gathering scientists for forums and evening salmon-roasts on the beach. Wedding receptions. A corporate retreat. A movie set. Skiing, hiking, a spa, bans on smoking and cars, maybe a high-speed hydrofoil to bring tourists 85 miles from Prince Rupert. "I feel like a kid in a candy shop," he said.

Kitsault, 500 miles northwest of Vancouver, was to be a model mining town. Instead, it became a monument to corporate misjudgment. In the late 1970s, Amax of Canada Limited chose to reopen a local mine, dormant since 1972, that produced molybdenum, a metal used to harden steel.

Amax created a modern, planned community to house 1,200 miners and their families. The company built seven apartment buildings and 92 suburban homes with aluminum siding and green lawns. The town boasted a recreation center with a gleaming hardwood-floor gym and a swimming pool, health clinic, community center, library and day-care facility.

But just as the families were getting settled, the price of molybdenum plunged, from a $15-per-ton high to $3. An oversupply of the ore from competing mines and the recession of the 1980s killed off the "moly" market.

There were occasional attempts to sell the property, but no takers until the price dropped and Suthanthiran noticed the ghost town for sale.

The frozen-in-time look of the town is deceptive, though. Ants are chewing away at the wood foundations; mold has crept into the eaves. The electrical wiring is brittle, and the sewage system, which runs straight into the estuary, probably will not pass today's standards.

"I don't think he really knows what he's gotten into," mused Edmond Wright, secretary-treasurer of the Nisga'a Lisims native government, which represents the aboriginal villages that are Kitsault's closest neighbors. "We're really out in the boondocks here."

Suthanthiran is undeterred by skeptics. "We're going to focus on the future," he said. "People are going to say, 'Wow.' And they will forget about the past. The ghosts will be exorcised."