City takes steps to prevent demolition of Waldorf Hotel

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.

Comments (14) Add New Comment
Curtis
I can't stand this City government

Can you play "count the votes"?
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Jovian
I'm truly excited by this rapid turnaround on the Waldorf. It shows that when the cultural community soaks up, people listen.
However, W2 is not vacant. The founders, directors, and staff are locked out. The non-payment of strata fees was due to the property management failing to provide services and acting to impede W2's operation in a bid to keep out members of the community they deemed undesirable.
The city is aware of this dispute and that it is as yet unresolved.
I do not speak on behalf of the organization, but for someone with an active interest, the far more nuanced and interesting story is out there. I'd appreciate the Straight not continuing to perpetuate this misleading narrative.
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Charlie Smith
I didn't write that W2 was vacant. I stated that the city has restricted access.

Charlie Smith
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Jovian
Charlie: thanks for the reply.
That part is correct, however the city was made aware of the reasons w2 had not the paid the fees prior to staff being locked out. I was just contesting the impression it was solely a monetary issue.
I'm curious where the suggestion came from for the Waldorf production company to occupy that space? They have no mandate there. The organization now locked out had their proposal approved through community consultation and its inclusion was contingent for special considerations granted the developers.
As fantastic as the Waldorf is, their missions are not at all interchangeable. That there was not nearly the uproar over W2's lockout suggests that the clientele it served are quite a bit lower on the totem pole in the vision the city has for going forward.
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Charlie Smith
Hi Jovian,

I just asked Heather Deal about W2 on my own. I have been watching this situation unfold, and some things don't make sense to me.

I find it hard to believe that nobody in the Vision caucus knew about this issue before Wednesday.

I also think if Solterra is buying the Waldorf, it has probably made some calculations about what it can do on the site.

The surrounding area offers more than enough room for a condo project while keeping the hotel.

Solterra is also in the entertainment business, so it might already have plans to make use of the liquor licences.

Waldorf Productions may have a hunch that Solterra has other plans for the Waldorf Hotel...with Solterra's sister company being the manager.

If you were running a popular venue and you knew you didn't have much time, what would you do? You might want to force the issue by announcing to the public (but not to the landlord) that you were suddenly leaving.

If you were on friendly terms with the political party in power -- and you knew that the political party in power had ensured that the COPE-friendly W2 founders were gone -- you might be eyeing that space in the Woodward's project.

I don't know if the downstairs space could be turned into a nightclub with live music. I don't know if the liquor licence for the W2 cafe could be morphed into a liquor primary licence for the downstairs.

I don't know if the upstairs space in W2 could be transformed into an art gallery such as the one that exists at the Waldorf. I do know there is capacity at W2 for a recording studio.

If the new operators of W2 are Vision Vancouver–friendly, that would be far preferable to the mayor than Sid Tan and Irwin Oostindie. And the new operators might even offer a nice third-party endorsement before the 2014 election.

If they're selling booze, they could pay the city the $85,000 per year stipend, which would fatten municipal coffers.

It's all hypothetical. But this is what was on my mind when I asked Heather Deal the question.

Charlie Smith
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Save Vancouver
Gee whiz Heather Deal, I don't see a whole lot of difference between the Waldorf and the Ridge situation yet you and the Vision caucus were happy to toss the Ridge's authentic midcentury architecture and cultural spaces to your developer buddies.
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Andrew
Save Vancouver - It's not only the Ridge; please have a look at the Legg Residence Heritage house built in 1899. This building still stands, but it's condemned. A development permit application was issued to build a 17-storey tower and demolish a heritage registry listed home. Here the mayor did not ask council to take "Steps to prevent any Demolition Permit from being issued, in the event the owners were to seek one" as intended for the Waldorf. The Waldorf is merely a high-profile example of what has been happening around the city over the last few years.
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Natty
Seems like council is trying to make amends after selling so many Vancouver icons down the shitter to condo developers. Even if you give us the Waldorf, no one will forget how you turned your back on the 105 year old Panthages theatre (where Charlie Chaplin played!).
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Jovian
Charlie: thanks for the detailed reply. Always enjoy your writing.
I see your point that the W2 space would make a beautiful arts and entertainment venue in a prime location, and that Waldorf Productions could do something cool with it that would be more pleasing to the market rate tenants (& Vision).
That space, however, is designated as a community amenity, and the programs run there were / are of a type the Waldorf operators have no experience with.
It can be argued Irwin, Sid, and all weren't fulfilling all of their mandate, but they did a lot with limited resources and support. The property management didn't even allow outside signage! What about the greater part of a million W2 was required to raise independently to complete the space after those monies were redirected to cover overage costs on the social housing?
Anslemi & the rest have played a smart political game. I don't doubt their sincerity but there's a surely strategic element to the way the information came out. It's not the type of move you get from the type of strong-willed activists who operated out of W2. Of course Vision would prefer to have pragmatic center-lefters willing to make deals and play the game down at W2. Waldorf Productions would fit the bill, but there'd be a large portion of the community they do not speak for losing even the future possibility of hearing their voice in that space.
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Nelson100
If you tally up the toll of cultural, heritage and character destruction under Vision's reigh it is truly frightening. The Waldof. Pantage Theater. The Ridge. St. John's Church (could have been a West End Cultural center, no, condos) The Legg House, Maxine's, The Yale, La Bodega. It is time to admit Vision are just a big greenwashing machine for local developers. Leaving them in power will render Vancouver one big sterile condo development, if we are not almost there already.
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Save Vancouver
True hipsters would boycott a bar run by condo developers.
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Foggy
Is Waldorf Productions a non-profit?
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Dave
As nice as the waldorf is, it is not as important as the Ridge bowling alley, lots and lots of pubs in the city but not too many bowling alleys, Vision did nothing to save it so I think this is ridiculous trying to save a Pub and not the bowling alley, Vision is not to be trusted when it comes to giving developers what they want.
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Johnson
Ask yourself this: if the W2 Media Arts crowd can't run a simple lunch counter what are the chances they'll put the rest of their thousands of sq ft of space to good use? The thousands upon thousands of customers who regularly use Nestors and London Drugs are largely ignoring the cafe's existence. The food is horrible, the service marginal. The place is a joke and everyone knows it. The opportunity to run a cafe in that venue is one people would die for and yet the W2 Media folks have utterly blown it. No truly poor person can afford to eat out at all and the people who do have money won't set foot in the place. Talk about a bad business plan.
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