Vancouver council has voted to issue a 120-day protection order for the Waldorf Hotel to prevent any potential demolition, while the city assesses the building’s heritage value.
In a presentation to city council today (January 15), city manager Penny Ballem called the Waldorf Hotel an “icon in the city of Vancouver”.
“It has been a really key social gathering place for our whole city, and particularly our east side community,” she said. “It is really a very important arts and cultural venue.”
Ballem noted that the current zoning for the property does not permit residential development without a rezoning application. An interim rezoning policy currently in place for the area prevents any rezoning requests from coming forward while the Grandview Woodlands community plan is being developed.
Without the protection order, the developer could come forward with a development permit to request a demolition for the property. However, Ballem acknowledged that neither the current owners or Solterra Group, the owners set to take over the property, have indicated they have any current plans to demolish the building.
Mayor Gregor Robertson called the protection order an “important next step” to ensure the Waldorf isn’t demolished.
“Both current and future owners have stated they don’t anticipate demolition, but clearly it’s important to ensure there’s no chance of that in the near term,” said Robertson. “While there are hopefully changes and accommodation made that enable the cultural facility to keep operating on that site.”
He added that the action won’t solve “the bigger challenge for the operators and landlords, who need to resolve their differences”, and said there may be a necessity for the operators of the Waldorf to move to a new location.
“Obviously council and the broader community will be watching that closely and seeing where constructive steps can happen to enable what has emerged as a great cultural hub in Vancouver to carry forward, whether at the Waldorf Hotel site or elsewhere,” said Robertson.
Following the approval of the temporary protection order today, city staff will be obligated to report back to council by May 15 to give the results of a statement of significance and heritage evaluation.
According to Ballem, while the Waldorf is not on the city’s heritage register, the building has been the subject of heritage discussions during the last 15 years.
Waldorf Productions, the operators of the cultural site, are set to close their doors on January 20.
Thomas Anselmi, one of the partners with Waldorf Productions, said the group has asked to sit down with Solterra to come to a solution about the future of the site.
"The minute that there's a solution found, we’d be happy to stay, but there’s no solution given, and Solterra is clearly not interested in discussing anything with us," he claimed.
Anselmi also told reporters at a rally outside city hall today that the cultural venue has become "a sort of community centre" and indicated the operators will go elsewhere if an agreement can't be reached at the current site.
"We want to make this city the sort of place that we want to live in, and that's not about money," he said. "It was a risky project, and we're seeing the results of that...but what we've done, we've done out of love, and we're going to continue to do it."
Anselmi added that Waldorf Productions is not "anti-development".
"We want community-minded development, we want arts-oriented programming in the hotel to continue, and we’re happy in whatever was to happen in the parking lot adjacent, and the car lot all the way to Clark…what we never wanted was to have the whole thing sold and potentially be demolished and then have a bunch of condomiums, that could just as easily be in Delta, built there," he said.
Solterra Group said in a news release on January 10 that the company has "an open mind" about the future of the site and is studying all the options.
"We want to work with the City to explore possible ways to retain and improve the hotel," Gerry Nichele, the CEO of Solterra Group, said in that release.
Jennifer Cook, one of the organizers of the rally outside city hall today, said supporters want to see Solterra and Waldorf Productions come to a solution to allow the operators to stay at the site.
"The city’s already shown their support for what they can do with the actual site and the physical building and the street that it’s on, but what we want really is for Solterra to work with Waldorf Productions and keep Waldorf Productions in the Waldorf, because without them, it’s not going to be the same place," she told the Straight.
Cook said the event was also intended to draw attention to the loss of arts spaces throughout the city.
“We are losing a lot of arts centres, so we’re also hoping that with the amount of attention and support that this is gaining, that we can also use that and build steam and help support some of the smaller venues like Red Gate and W2 that have also been taken under for various reasons,” she said.
Former Coalition of Progressive Electors councillor Ellen Woodsworth said she had hoped to see the city introduce a broader plan to protect cultural spaces.
“We’re losing artistic space at a very rapid rate,” she said in an interview. “We need a comprehensive city plan that can stand up to this kind of rapacious development that’s just creating really expensive housing that doesn’t provide housing for artists, nor does it provide cultural spaces.”