Waldorf Hotel operator seeks meeting with purchaser as city evaluates heritage value

Waldorf Productions and its supporters have done a remarkable job of keeping the issue of the hotel's future in the public eye with its campaign for a long-term lease.

A group called Vancouver Loves the Waldorf has already lined up a bevy of high-profile endorsers—including musicians like Dan Mangan and Joe Keithley, leading arts administrators like Jim Wright and Kathleen Bartels, and top-flight visual artists like Paul Wong and Ian Wallace.

A relentless media-relations campaign has pushed Mayor Gregor Robertson to order the city manager to bring a report to tomorrow's council meeting. It will outline options for "protecting" the building.

Meanwhile, Coun. Heather Deal has declared that the hotel will be a part of the city's future. This comes amid reports that the building and surrounding parking-lot space have been bought by the Solterra Group of Companies.

Hordes of people showed up at the hotel yesterday to show their support, and 15,000 people have signed an online petition to "save the Waldorf".

All of this has been accomplished with the help of daily news releases from the company, ensuring that this story doesn't disappear from the media.

Today's bulletin from Waldorf Productions is headlined: "The Solterra Group is attempting to demolish a cultural institution, not only a building."

"As everyone is now aware, the Solterra Group, a Delta-based condominium developer, has refused to meet with the Waldorf's creative team," the news release declares. "Waldorf Productions is currently on a week-to-week lease and the property must be delivered vacant on September 1 to Solterra. This forces them to vacate the premises on Sunday, January 20 as the business requires commitments to artists, organizations, and entertainers months in advance."

Solterra stated on January 10 that it has no intention "at this point" of demolishing the East Hastings Street hotel.

Waldorf Productions partner Thomas Anselmi wants people in the city to hear his rebuttal.

"This is not only about the heritage preservation of an important Vancouver landmark but the destruction of a cultural institution in a city of vanishing arts spaces," he states in the news release. "This company is showing no respect for the community they're supposedly marketing to. Despite the fact that 60 people have lost their jobs, countless artists, musicians, and independent entrepreneurs are being displaced and the city is losing one of its most beloved institutions, Solterra won't even grace us with a meeting."

Solterra has not responded to calls from the Georgia Straight. It remains to be seen if any of the Waldorf Productions employees will be retained by the landlord, Waldorf Hotel Ltd., if the leaseholder follows through on its pledge to vacate the hotel on January 20. The hotel owner, Marko Puharich, has indicated to the Straight that he has no intention of shuttering the building after the leaseholder leaves.

Next in the news release, Anselmi turned his guns on the media. I presume in the following comment, he's referring to an article I wrote last night.

"Leaked, out-of-context emails and confusing half-truths in the press are a distraction from the real issue," Anselmi says. "Yesterday, we made a great effort to dispel the myth of our financial insolvency in a press release. We have vastly increased the bottom line for everyone who is attacking our good name."

He points out that media outlets have not reported that "any residential development between Clark and McLean, on the north side of [East Hastings] street, will be extremely difficult given the current circumstances".

"City Hall has stated a commitment to preserving commercial and industrial zoning and any zoning changes need community support which is clearly not there," Anselmi states in the news release.

(There's no mention that last summer, his business partner, Ernesto Gomez, wrote an email to the landlord suggesting that the zoning could be changed.)

The Waldorf is zoned MC-2, which refers to mixed uses. The MC-2 designation limits housing in areas adjacent to heavy-impact industrial zones.

This section of East Hastings Street is not considered part of the region's industrial-land base under the jurisdiction of Metro Vancouver's Regional Growth Strategy, according to former Vancouver planning director Brent Toderian. So this means council can rezone for housing without running it past the Metro Vancouver board.

The principal in Toderian UrbanWORKS tells the Straight by phone that he expects council to add the Waldorf Hotel to the heritage registry.

"They're talking about establishing a statement of significance," he says. "I'm sure they'll find heritage merit in there."

However, Toderian maintains that if it's included in the registry, this merely means that the building is "important" and it's added to a city list.

"It doesn't give it any kind of legal status," he emphasizes. "The thing that gives it a legal status is to designate it. People often get placement on the heritage registry and designation mixed up."

Buildings can be designated A, B, or C.

Under provincial heritage legislation, he explains, the city must compensate a property owner for the effects of designation if council does this without the owner's consent. 

"Usually the effects of the designation is a significant decrease in development potential," Toderian says. "So imagine the city having to write cheques for every heritage building being designated. The city does have the power to protect buildings, but it comes with a big price tag associated with it because of the provincial legislation."

He notes the city can use other tools, such density bonusing and the heritage density bank, to pay owners for compensation and rehabilitation without turning over cash.

If council doesn't designate a property as heritage, the owner is free to demolish it even if it's listed on the heritage registry.

"Technically the city can't prevent demolition [without designation]," Toderian says. "It can only delay demolition. So if you get into that kind of a back-and-forth, heritage usually loses. What I used to say when I was chief planner was we have a lot more authority around what goes up than what comes down."

On January 13, community activist Ned Jacobs told the Straight outside the Waldorf Hotel that he thinks any new owner will be happy to take a huge amount of heritage density in return for the building being designated heritage.

That's because this additional density could be sold to another developer or landed on the same site, allowing for more housing units.

"Basically the pattern I see here is similar to the York Theatre," Jacobs said. "You purchase an old building that is an important cultural venue for the community that people love. And then you hold it for ransom."

He said that through this process, the existing use becomes the amenity for more density. This ensures a "landfall profit" falling to the owners.

"I think first of all, council has to realize...they have set in motion policies that play into the hands of this type of destructiveness," Jacobs said.

Ned Jacobs says a heritage designation could lead to greater density.

Bill McCreery, a former NPA council candidate, was standing beside Jacobs outside the Waldorf. McCreery claimed that council has created the possibility of losing the Waldorf as a cultural facility because of its propensity for allowing spot rezonings.

"The developers have been told, effectively, 'Anything goes. Come to us. Tell us how much you want. And we'll make a deal,' " McCreery said. "That's crazy. You just can't continue to do that."

Bill McCreery opposes spot rezonings.
Comments (15) Add New Comment
Kiddie Entrepreneurs
If I was Solterra, I would meet with the Little Lord Fauntleroys of Waldorf Operations. Just to tell them that they can go pound sand.

Buncha spoiled rich brats. And is this the same Anselmi whose father (uncle?) sits on the board of the TO Maple Leafs and who botched the firing of Brian Burke? Ooooh, that may be a BIG payout!

Those Anselmis. Friggin financial geniuses! Hope you get to the bottom of all this, Charlie.

Freakin' whiners.
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Skeptical
Really? The City can designate a private building heritage after it's been sold?

If this place was such a 'cultural icon' and "incubator" (ugh)why wasn't it designated heritage before?

Something really stinks here. The heritage designation is actually likely to produce an even denser condo project, yes? Hmmm. More units + more taxes to the City?

And PS. Whoever is doing the Waldorf Ops PR, really, really sucks.
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Sandy Garossino
Is there some reason you didn't contacted Lindsay Brown or me for comment for this story? We are the people, with support from the estimable Ellen Woodsworth, who organized the Sunday Waldorf Love-in, not "the leaseholder" as stated here.

I met Tom Anselmi for the first time on Sunday, and still haven't met Ernesto Gomez.

I contacted Dan Mangan, Grimes (who both tweeted their support), Jim Wright, Nardwuar and Sarb Mund of the food cart association. Lindsay contacted Ian Wallace, Paul Wong and Kathleen Bartels. Ken Pickering of the Jazz Festival came out, as did many other Vancouver luminaries.

This was arranged by the arts and community advocates on less than 24 hours notice, not by Waldorf Productions, who were frankly flattened by the stress of the last few days.

That instant and heartfelt community response, like the coverage from the Rolling Stone, NME and Jian Ghomeshi, and like the 15,000 signatures in less than a week, is testament to the gigantic achievement that the Waldorf represents to this city.

This story casts Waldorf Productions in a self-serving and calculating role, which is the exact opposite of the spontaneous outpouring of support that happened.

As an organizer of Sunday's event, I would appreciate if you would correct the record to reflect the facts.
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Mike
This whole thing is a publicity stunt by Waldorf Productions due to their loss of a venue for their "events." They obviously are aware of the response a cry of "HERE COME THE DEVELOPERS" will garner from East Vancouver residents. Clever, but also dumb. They're shooting themselves in the foot. Who will want them once they're removed from the Waldorf premises?
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Charlie Smith
Sandy,

Your view is that the story casts the company in a self-serving role. I was trying to give some hardworking people, including Michael Mann, credit for working their butts off under difficult circumstances.

It's not easy to mobilize a community response like that. It takes a lot of work.

Maybe I should have given you credit, too. I've adjusted the first couple of paragraphs to reflect the work of the community.


Charlie Smith
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ArtHead
Hey, is this the Sandy Garossino story?

She's not part of the scene at the Waldorf. I'm tired of older people hi-jacking our stuff for their use! Yeah, yeah, we all know you're Grimes mom. Glad you could have her sign on. But you're not one of us. Sorry.

Is this about business guys who don't seem to know how to run a business properly? Or that the place we love could be torn down?

There's already been lots of self serving self promotion on this story. Let's keep things straight! The only thing that matters to me is that the space can remain. And that really smart people-not poseurs-will run it.
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over it
seriously over it... there's so much other art and culture to support but the georgia straight seems to have a hard on for the waldorf only writing about them lately.

Want to support vancouver culture - write stories about other organizations that don't have thousands of people supporting them
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Martin Dunphy
over it

With respect: top of the page, red letters....
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Hey ArtHead...
Some of us were old people were going to the Waldorf when you were swimming around in your daddy's balls. If you can't get behind the support then get the hell out of the way. It's not just about YOUR scene.
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Rating: +4
ArtHead
Hey dude,

You may have been going to the Waldorf before my time. But pretty sure the only 'culture' you saw then was at the bottom of your glass. Maybe that affected your 'swimmers'?

Glad you found something that makes you think you are part of it, with this fight. But stop trying so hard to be 'cool'. You sound like a doof.

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Dear Arthead
You're obviously here to have fun, which is fine but you're not helping matters. People have been going there long before your 3 year old scene. Times will change, so will you. Maybe someday you'll reminisce about the good old hipster days at the Waldorf. Until then stop being an shallow, ageist, zero. We all lose if the Waldorf falls. Old and young.
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Curious
Charlie

I see that your reporting on this subject has been called into question, on Twitter. When one is losing an argument on the viability of a business, how easy to 'shoot the messenger!'

I think you have looked at all sides fairly. Keep up the good work.

The City looks to be stressing that it will protect the actual building with their decision today to put in 140 day 'moratorium' on bulldozing, with a mention about trying to maintain it as a 'cultural hub' in the future. They said they welcomed talks between the property owner and the developer to help solve this situation.

Sounds like Waldorf Productions will not be the 'trois' in this menage!
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ArtHead
Hmmm. I wasn't the one who brought up 'balls'.

As for reminiscing, I prefer to live in the present. It's older people who have taken over this issue---the youth are left to follow. If that's being 'ageist' ,woo hoo. I'll wear it with pride.

I'm not 'helping' according to you. Helping what? Your patronizing, Boomer guilt?
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Amanda
Hey ArtHead you and your 'scene' have been scooping up my old jems where one could still reflect on life from the bottom of a glass in peace - u and ur scene have no respect or space for the residents of this super dynamic neighborhood who have been patrons of such businesses long before it was trendy. Do the real hipster thing an have respect for the humbleness of what was so that was is now can enjoy the same- peace out
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Vancouver Expat
This story and also the 'hate' some people seem to have have makes me very sad and is hard to understand.

The loss of the Waldorf in its current incarnation seems a big loss to the city.

Many years ago I relocated to Europe and I can tell you that over here, an entity such as the Waldorf (even incuding pop music venues!) would be receiving a large portion of its yearly operating budget in the form of subsidies from the State and local municipality. The idea being that culture and the arts enriches society in general and is therefore considered worth the expenditure of public funds !
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