RIP Waldorf Hotel, another Vancouver cultural hub killed by condo interests

Another Vancouver institution falls under real estate development hatchet


This is a disaster. Vision Vancouver, are you really going to allow more speculative condo development to take out one of the last good mixed cultural venues in the city? For those who don’t know about Vancouver’s historic Waldorf Hotel, see its site or an article here . The hotel represents a key piece of built heritage, but it is also an important site of Vancouver cultural history. Famed acts have played in its famous tiki bar and other rooms. Its eviction is a final act in Vancouver’s long saga of throwing culture under the bus, then rolling out the red carpet for condos built for an investment market.

This city’s ship rudderless. Why not just make a condo developer mayor? Truly, the result would be the same. Mark Carney, Bank of Canada head, has long warned that there is a surplus of condos in both Vancouver and Toronto and that real estate development needs to be slowed. Condos worsen rather than relieve unaffordability, and their rampant development is killing culture, more quickly than slowly. Culture needs affordable older buildings, history, and protection from rampant speculation. And this when the selling market in Vancouver has slowed to a standstill. Pointless destruction. RIP Waldorf.

There are two petitions you can sign:

1. Gregor Robertson: Deny rezoning of the Waldorf Hotel site to condo development
2. City of Vancouver: Save the Waldorf Hotel

Press Articles
Day 1, Jan 9
Georgia Straight
, Globe and Mail (utterly disagree with last sentence, barring a couple of developer philanthropists who get it only half right) and Scout Magazine. And a smart analysis on this blog and a summary on Frances Bula’s blog.

Day 2, Jan 10
NME Grimes criticises hometown over plans to close local recording studio ‘Vancouver is so fucked’ she says in angry Twitter post
Metro News: Waldorf Hotel’s new owner responds amidst public outcry
CBC Waldorf Hotel could be saved, says developer
Mainlander The story behind The Waldorf’s displacement from the Hastings Corridor

Later days

Jan 15  Opinion: Solterra Group should cut deal with Waldorf operators and let them continue their program
Jan 14  Lament for the Waldorf: A looming development leaves the historic Vancouver hotel’s fate in jeopardy

For urbanism nerds, read the last two paragraphs here on “stroads” (street/roads) and the correct way to develop them.

January 9, 2013, Vancouver, British Columbia

East Vancouver’s cultural institution the Waldorf Hotel has been sold to real estate development company forcing imminent closure.

The Waldorf Hotel re-opened its doors on October 31, 2010 with a vision: create a welcoming cultural hub in the heart of East Vancouver. Prior to this, the complex, which was built in 1947, had seen better days, and was just one of many dilapidated Eastside dive bars. But in the summer of 2010, a 15-year lease was signed by a group of partners led by Thomas Anselmi, Ernesto Gomez, Scott Cohen, and Daniel Fazio. They proceeded at great financial and sweat equity costs, with no assistance from the landlord, to restore the building to its former glory.

A restaurant, hotel rooms, a world renowned tiki bar, two nightclub spaces, a recording studio, and an art gallery were housed under the re-imagined Waldorf’s roof. It was embraced by the community and dubbed “a Cultural Oasis in the middle of nowhere” by the Globe and Mail.

The Waldorf was well on its way to growing into an economically viable and profitable business. But, given the scope of the project and its “middle of nowhere” location, it should come as no surprise that the first year was a financially difficult one. The landlord, Marko Puharich, was sympathetic and understanding and some rent was forgiven to give the project breathing room. But in August 2012, the landlord’s attitude changed overnight and it was baffling. Phone calls stopped being answered. Emails and texts were unreturned. A smug litigator, rather than the jovial landlord, became the point of contact. The property was on the market and the landlord was using the Waldorf’s growing pains to break the lease.

In early January 2013, Anselmi and Gomez were informed that the complex had been sold to the Solterra Group of Companies, a condominium developer. “Solterra were unwilling to sit down and discuss negotiating long-term lease possibilities. We were offered a week-to-week lease until September 2013, when the property must be delivered vacant. We obviously can’t move forward under these conditions as our business requires commitments to artists, organizations and entertainers months in advance,” Anselmi explains. He then adds: “This has cost 60 people their jobs. This has destroyed our business.

“The irony that the Waldorf was taken over by a condo developer in the very area we helped reinvigorate is obvious to anyone. The Waldorf filled a void. People responded because they needed it. We tried to stand for something authentic and real in a city with thousands of empty condominiums and a community starved for cultural spaces,” says Anselmi.

During its tenure, institutions like the Cheaper Show, the East Side Culture Crawl, the New Forms Festival, the Polaris Music Prize, the Presentation House Gallery, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Vancouver International Film Festival all held events at the Waldorf. And the city’s top culture producers like Black Mountain, Douglas Coupland, Rodney Graham, Grimes, Japandroids, Michael Turner, and Paul Wong all headlined events here as well. “On top of international entertainment programming every weekend, the team was constantly working towards the next big event, such as Food Cart Festival and our legendary hotel-wide Halloween and New Year’s Eve Parties,” Fazio recalls. “We were always trying to out-do ourselves.”

Everyone at the Waldorf takes great pride in the fact that the complex was operated as a community-oriented cultural institution. The Waldorf had an open door policy. Countless emerging artists, non-profits, and community groups were facilitated. The Chef-in-Residence program devised by Gomez and Cesar De La Parra hosted international culinary stars, Bob Blumer, Rodolfo Sanchez, and Pedro Martin. The Waldorf hosted an international artist-in-residence program for musicians and visual artists in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut and the French Consulate.

“We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all the people who supported the Waldorf since we reopened our doors. We’re extremely proud of all the artists and events that we’ve hosted over last two and a half years. We’re extremely proud of our incredible staff who helped to execute world class events,” says Gomez.

The Waldorf will be vacated on Sunday, January 20, 2013. The Waldorf was nothing without its creative team and they are currently looking for a new space where they can continue to develop the high quality and eclectic arts and entertainment programming that the complex has become known for and that Vancouverites want and deserve.


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One Response to “RIP Waldorf Hotel, another Vancouver cultural hub killed by condo interests”

  1. Jonathan Says:

    When city council finally pulls their heads out of the developers’ asses, wipes the shit off their faces and looks around, they will see a city no one wants to live in anymore.

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