Vision Vancouver councillor Heather Deal has given the strongest indication yet that the historic Waldorf Hotel on East Hastings Street will not be torn down.
"There are quite a few buildings in the city that people have expressed concern about," Deal told the Straight by phone. "But what makes this truly unique is that not only does it have this great history with the longshoremen—and more recently with that ‘hipster' crowd—but it also has been renovated beautifully and restored in the interior. And it is fulfilling a need for the future of the area. It’s heritage past, but it’s also going to be heritage future."
She then added: "It’s current. It’s restored. It’s being operated. It’s loved in its current incarnation, and that’s not always the case. Like I say, this is not just a piece of our history. It’s a piece of our future.”
Vancouver city manager Penny Ballem will present a report at the next council meeting on "protecting the Waldorf Hotel", according to a news release issued earlier today by Mayor Gregor Robertson's office.
The mayor "directed" Ballem to do this without a motion from council.
He will also introduce a motion asking staff to meet with Waldorf Productions Inc. to discuss options for continuing an arts and culture venue in Vancouver—including options for continuing at the Waldorf location.
“The Waldorf is both a significant cultural amenity and a major neighbourhood asset, one that resonates with people of all ages throughout Vancouver,” Robertson said in the statement. “To lose such a historic building would be a big blow, which is why we need to do what we can to protect it—we need to be building up Vancouver’s arts and culture. I want to ensure the Waldorf Hotel is protected and that we don’t lose a valuable live performance venue.”
According to the news release, the mayor's motion will ask city staff to meet with Waldorf Productions "to discuss their business plan and identify possibilities for continuing an arts and culture venue in Vancouver, including partnerships with other organizations".
The Straight asked Deal if there is any chance that Waldorf Productions might even be granted an opportunity to operate the W2 space in the Woodward's complex.
"Absolutely," she replied, before adding "I can't say we've discussed that. But everything is on the table. We're currently working with all kinds of different groups that are interested in W2, so if they expressed that interest, I'm sure we would work with them."
The W2 Media Arts Society board laid off the executive director, Irwin Oostindie. The city has restricted access to the arts hub after the society fell into financial arrears.
In addition, Robertson's motion will "ask staff to consult with the current and new landowners to see if any accommodations can be made to keep Waldorf Productions on site".
The Solterra Group of Companies issued a news release yesterday stating that the Puharich family continues to be responsible for the hotel, which is owned by Waldorf Hotel Ltd. The Puharich family has four liquor licences on-site.
Solterra, a condo developer, acknowledged that it will eventually take possession of the property.
"We have an open mind about the future of this site and we are studying all the options," Solterra CEO Gerry Nichele said in the statement. “I can say that at this point we certainly have no intention of demolishing the Waldorf Hotel. We want to work with the City to explore possible ways to retain and improve the hotel.”
The Straight asked Deal if the city will take steps to require the liquor licences to remain at the Hastings Street location. "That hasn't come up at all," she replied. "I don't think there's any intent to change that at this point."
Meanwhile, Ballem's report will focus on how to stop a demolition permit from being issued—even if a current or future owner files an application. In addition, Ballem will include a "statement of significance" on the 63-year-old hotel's heritage value, according to the mayor's news release.
Waldorf Productions issued a statement expressing gratitude over the "tremendous outpouring of support" from the public, noting that #Waldorf has been trending across Canada on Twitter.
"At present time we are working with Mayor Robertson and the City of Vancouver to protect the Waldorf Hotel," company co-owner Ernesto Gomez said in a news release.
Later in the statement, he added: "The heritage preservation of the hotel is important to us but this massive public reaction is about the destruction of a beloved cultural institution. The creative community of Vancouver is galvanized in its overwhelming support for Waldorf Productions and its creative team. We're in it for the long haul."
He claimed that 60 jobs are at stake and "countless artists, musicians, and independent entrepreneurs are being displaced" if Waldorf Productions ceases operations at the hotel.
Robertson and Waldorf Productions declined the Straight's request for interviews, preferring to make their comments through news releases. Solterra has not responded to the Straight's request for an interview.
The long-time owner of the property, Waldorf Hotel Ltd., also declined the Straight's request for a comment on today's developments.
Earlier this week, Waldorf Hotel Ltd. lawyer Gavin Crickmore told the Straight that it would be "business as usual" at the hotel if the operator vacates the building, as expected, on January 20.