Don't blame Waldorf Hotel's owner for the closure of its tenants' venue

"The mean condo developers have brutally destroyed the Waldorf, WAHH!"



Take a deep breath. Now another. Find some inner calm and let's talk about the demise of Waldorf Productions like grown-ups.

Look, I'm not here to mount a white-knighted defence of gentrification and condo developments; hell, I'm drowning in debt and harbour no delusions of ever owning property.

But let's stop ignoring the fact that a venue is a business.

No one is entitled to a venue. Businesses are under no obligation to provide people with free space.

Fact: Waldorf Productions couldn't pay its rent for a while. They asked their landlord if it would be okay if they could temporarily avoid paying rent.

Fact: When I don't pay my rent, I get evicted.

So why is this scenario any different?

Real estate is expensive, but people bemoaning the lack of venues and dynamic arts spaces in Vancouver need to start pooling their money to become owners instead of tenants.

When promoters don't have permanent spaces, they're at the mercy and whim of landlords who, at the end of the day, are there to make money. They want their fucking rent.

Why did Waldorf Productions sign a 15-year lease for space in a building surrounded by development properties? That whole stretch of East Hastings Street is being prepped by developers for condos. Was there really a reasonable expectation that a former motel lodge on a dirty stretch of Hastings would still be there in 15 years?

Richard's on Richards met with a similar fate but, let's be honest: the building was a falling down wreck with mysterious leaks coming through the bathrooms' ceilings. Am I glad the venue was replaced by condo towers? Not particularly. Do I harbour an unyielding belief that the end of Richard's on Richards was an unsurvivable tragedy? Not in the slightest.

If you build it, they will come. The clever minds at Waldorf Productions proved that handily. Yes, it's sad that their business failed. But the fiscal reasons their business failed are just as important as the always-changing nature of a major metropolitan city.

People are calling the Waldorf the lifeblood of Vancouver, but that's a tad melodramatic. How many venues have closed in this city over the years? How many will open in the future? Do we cling so desperately to closing venues because they are truly amazing places or out of nostalgia, a desperate longing for a past that is not longer here?

Culture is not static; it is a continually evolving entity. Some of the most challenging, thoughtful, creative, and meaningful art comes in the face of adversity, in the wake of destruction and change. Nothing is permanent; three years ago, the Waldorf as a reputable venue didn't even exist. And now people are wringing their hands as if the big bad wolf has come in, blown houses down, and eaten their pets.

The closures of the W2 Media Café and the Waldorf clearly show that there is a serious disconnect between culture and business in Vancouver. I see a lot of people with great ideas overextending themselves and their resources—and inevitably failing in their pursuits. It's shitty, but the fact of the matter is that you can't get something for nothing.

I'm seeing a lot of people desperate to create community and putting in untold hours into fostering that. So why are these endeavours failing? You can't keep falling back and blaming the corporate boogeymen or ineffectual politicians or the economy. Eventually you have to take a serious look at what you are doing—or not doing.

People make community, not production companies. Over 4,500 people have signed a petition asking the city not to rezone the Waldorf property, great. Now what are those thousands actually going to do?

This isn't simply a battle between developers and the poor, helpless arts community. This is a struggle to marry creativity with the business sense to capitalize upon and effectively market those ideas. This is a gulf between artists’ good intentions and their ability to flourish in a money-driven culture.

So the Waldorf closed. What I want to hear is: what is the community going to do next? 

More on the Waldorf

Comments (75) Add New Comment
"No one is entitled to a venue."

Are you nuts?!

What is this, the 1620s? Who's the prime minister? Attlia the Hun?

The only venue that should be denied is the venue the Georgia Straight gave for your crazy rant.

Oh right, it is the 1620s, and Thomas Hobbes lives in our midst, writing op-eds for Vancouver's most popular weekly:
Rating: -171
Agreed, if you don't pay your bills then you should be kicked to the curb. W2 situation is appalling that they could not pay their bills.
Rating: +61
Bodhi Jones
Well Said! Thanks for saving me the time and energy of an ill worded rant on my facebook and twitter feeds :)
Rating: +49
I agree with you that the operators should have looked into the site more carefully. The Industrial Lands Policies (written in 1995) clearly state that all industrial lands along Hastings were to be "let go" to development after that point.

But what you're forgetting here is that the amount of capital that artists are able to mobilize versus the amount that developers and landowners are able to is also a "serious disconnect" ie. artist do not have access to the funds that developers do. Even if artists 'pooled' their resources, they would not be able to afford the lengthy and expensive process of rezoning a site or to have a building put into the heritage register.

And why is this scenario any different than you not being able to pay your rent? Because our politicians--who I voted for based on their promises--created a policy document that stated support for these very types of spaces. ( They stated that making cultural spaces was a "city priority" and that they would, "Identify “creative zones” in which by-laws and zoning requirements are used to
encourage and protect creative activity." None of which seems to have happened at this point. Quite the contrary, it seems that cultural spaces (The Red Gate, W2, the Waldorf) are dropping like flies under this current government....

In this case, we need to see real leadership from our elected politicians. Vision Vancouver came out with a policy and they need to stick to it. If they really supported arts as a priority they would step in and help those without the power of capital to preserve important venues. Vancouver wants to see itself as a vibrant, "world city", but sits by as the things that make an interesting city get quashed. We'll only continue to be a seaside outdoor Disneyland until we are ready to support and fight for cultural spaces that make the city unique and dynamic.
Rating: +126
But according to an interview on CBC yesterday, they had been keeping up with their rent obligations... The owners sold the property and pulled the carpet from under their feet.

The Waldorf is not just any motel - it is a historic East Van icon and the developer should have known this.
Rating: +8
Craig Mac
Just read something similar....people you need to support these businesses so they dont go out of business:
Rating: +27
@ Pete: The Waldorf was built just a couple of years before I was born. Does that make me "historic" too? Should I be protected and restored by the city? Please advise.

By the way, except for the interior renovations, the Waldorf building is a complete dump and eyesore, just like all of the buildings around it.
Rating: -18
Rob Roy
No one is 'entitled' to free rent, free space, or a free venue within private property. That privilege has to be earned.

The Waldorf is private property. If the owners and the venue operators can't make a deal to mutual benefit, that's how it goes.

The answer lies in much higher use of land ALREADY owned by the government. There is ample space in ample buildings that now sit idle or grossly underused.

Consider the old Salvation Army / Buddhist Temple at Hastings and Gore, built in 1947. It is owned by Coastal Health. They use its 22,000 sq ft to store used filing cabinets and old dental chairs. It has a full kitchen, a 600-seat auditorium, two gymnasia, a dozen office and meeting spaces, and great public transit.

The arts uses to which it could be put are stupendous.

It's one of a dozen such properties. Those who complain about the Waldorf (also built in 1947) need to get their act together, organize an artists co-op, and acquire it.

The DTES is coming back from its long oblivion, artists already roam those streets like pigeons, and the Temple would be a great place to make and see and experience art of every sort.

Those complaining about the Waldorf need to get organized and acquire the Temple -- and a dozen other sites like it.

"Don't mourn. Organize."
Rating: +115
I believe the anger over the closure isn't about the real estate, its about the priorities expressed--i.e. the alleged sale of the hotel to yet another mega body and the likely future of the hotel itself.

I would rather have a mildly run down hotel occupying that space than yet another unaffordable condo hi-rise sitting there.
Rating: +23
Kim Davison
All good points, except THIS IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED at the Waldorf. Stop spreading misinformation! You're displaying an shocking disregard for the actual facts here. Why?
Rating: -28
Michael Tippett
This is not just another club. The Waldorf isn't Dick's on Dick's. It is considered one of the most famous tiki bars in the world. This is a tragic loss and could represent the end of one of Vancouver's most cherished landmarks.
Rating: -7
I think the point is that these culturally significant/specific venues are being bulldozed and nothing comparable is being built to replace them. Therefore the cultural landscape is being changed for the worse.
Rating: +36
Robert Fougere
Business is business, but The Waldorf is something special. Venue, gallery, restaurant, salon, etc, host of unforgettable parties, cultural events, film screenings and even weddings. Can't see another bar filling that void.
Rating: +3
I think the Waldorf was doing an amazing job in terms of becoming a self-sustaining business for the size and type of cultural institution that it was. However, having cultural organizations to operate just as any other business is dangerous, as that may force institutions to compromise their goals, or prevent immaterially valuable ideas from being carried out all. Support via tax-breaks, grants and other forms are necessary for something that creates value for a city as a whole, as opposed to merely contributing to profits of landowners and developers. Some European countries have great examples of this in practice.
Rating: +21
out at night
I'm not blaming the owners or the tenants, I'm grieving the loss of a super cool venue. Who's really to blame? Me. I love the Waldorf but didn't get out there more than a handful of times over the past few years. Too far to go, I'm getting old, it's raining, oh I have to work, tickets cost too much, oh crap that was last night? the list of excuses is endless. So me and all the other complacent assholes should hold ourselves to account for allowing the Denman Cinema, the Waldorf, the Granville 7 (to name 3 very recent casualties), and other cool venues in Vancouver to disappear.
Rating: +57
Good Riddance
I was excited for this place when it opened upon hearing about the reno's, what it was going to do for local music as a new venue etc ... I had been going to New Years parties there in the late 90's & saw no real difference to the interior ... also, as someone involved in the Vancouver music scene in promoting/booking shows, I found the Waldorf to be very inclusive, clique-y, dismissive & arrogant ... personally, I thought all bets were against them from the beginning.
Oh well.
Rating: +28
I believe many who care about culture and vibrant active spaces are looking into community-owned options, and it is regrettable that this situation has unfolded at the Waldorf in spite of the solid efforts by lots of good folk.

To clarify, however, the W2 community-owned model (still being restructured) is different than the Waldorf's private business deal.

W2 was an outcome of the Woodsquat and City and developer commitments to the community and was chosen from a democratic selection process. W2 is not a market player like the Waldorf so your comparison is not accurate. It may be that in 2-3 years Waldorf becomes reconfigured as an amenity re-emerging from a rezoning at its current location, but that's when the comparisons could start.

Woodward's community amenity was a commitment from the City to enable a $400M development and ensure community space as a community benefit. Since W2's approval back in 2006 by the community selection process, City staff and Council, it has been a struggle to get that commitment fully realised.

The NPA wanted the civic-owned space leased out as commercial real estate, then COPE/Vision was elected and community space was allowed if the community groups paid millions to complete construction... W2 survived that obstacle too. No one had bothered to finance any community-access amenity from the massive redevelopment despite all the great storytelling.

Two years late on construction, finally opening in Sept 2011, W2 then faced regular hostility from the Woodward's property management company who do not want the poor DTES residents in W2's community-access spaces which are operated as a community centre (free public bathrooms, lounge, meeting rooms etc).
Expected to pay $85,000 for strata fees to the City for this property mngt company (while little to no servicing of its ground and basement spaces takes place), W2 refused to pay these fees and communicated this fact to the City in February 2012. Rather than resolve negotiations over these fees and W2's "sustainability," the City's Legal Dept served an eviction notice for Feb 28 - a surprise to City Council and W2 alike.
W2 is not dead - and while the property mngt changed the locks - W2 is alive and well and waiting to get back in and deliver its exciting mix of innovative inclusive programming. More info here: or
Rating: +10
Rating: -6
They did pay, admittedly late, but with interest. The owner got more than the money he was owed. Also, eat a dick.
Rating: -7
A case could be made that the criticism of this particular eviction is not based on the standalone value of the Waldorf itself, but instead results from the cumulative impact of the closure of so many of these spaces in the last few years and a perceived lack of attention given to protecting cultural production in the city; it would have less, then, to do with the owners of the property and their actions, and more to do with the societal institutions who many believe, quite rightly, are tasked with the responsibility to be representatives and protectors of culture and cultural spaces (hence the letter to the Mayor, not the developers). In the end, living spaces without supported cultures beneath them make for uninteresting and alienating places to live. I can only imagine the city of condos with Subways and London Drugs lining their storefronts, as far as the eyes can see, if we allow profiteering (that is, immediate capitalization) to be the sole perspective in determining value.
Rating: +26


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