Fate of Waldorf Hotel remains unclear

Condominium development threatens one of Vancouver’s cultural mainstays

Will the Waldorf survive?

Will the Waldorf survive? – Courtesy of Guilhem Vellut

Vancouver’s arts, music and culture scene is embroiled in a fight to retain one of the city’s staples of live entertainment. With the Waldorf Hotel set to close on January 20 after being sold to condo developers, there’s still a glimmer of hope in the arts community that the building could be salvaged.

When news of the closing broke on January 9, there was an immediate reaction from upset fans. #Waldorf was trending nationally on Twitter, where people reacted to the shocking news of the venue’s untimely end.

Local politicians are even weighing in.

“The City is exploring ways to support the Waldorf continuing as one of Vancouver’s most unique + vibrant cultural spaces” stated Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson over Twitter.

An online petition to save the Waldorf created by Gen Why Media quickly began circulating Twitter and Facebook, and as of this writing, has attracted more than 18,000 signatures.

“It will be a while before we take possession of the property and right now the Puharich family is still responsible for the ongoing operations of the hotel,” stated Gerry Nichele of condominium developers the Solterra Group, in a document released January 10. “We have an open mind about the future of this site and we are studying all the options.”

While not explicitly outlining any direct plans for the property, the Solterra Group claimed it had no intention of demolishing the Waldorf Hotel — good news for the hotel’s immediate future.

On January 13, a group by the name of Vancouver Loves the Waldorf put together a “Love-In” rally held at the Waldorf, where the arts community showed up in force.

“Vancouver has always worked hard for our gigs. We have always had to rent halls and bug promoters to put us on bills,” local indie scene mainstay and eccentric journalist Nardwuar said in an interview with The Link. “With the Waldorf it looked like we were going to overcome that problem of having to work hard by giving people a chance. And now what happens? It comes crashing down. That’s what’s kind of sad.”

[pullquote]An online petition to save the Waldorf quickly began circulating and has attracted more than 18,000 signatures.[/pullquote]Speakers in attendance included notable luminaries Jim Wright, director of the Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Art Gallery director Kathleen Bartels, and Vancouver artist and governor general’s award winner Paul Wong.

“If we can put in bike lanes we can support arts and culture in this city,” Wong told the crowd of about 200 people. He then announced that the Waldorf would be on the agenda at January 15’s city council meeting.

The Waldorf is currently zoned for mixed commercial and industrial and would not allow for the development of condos. City manager Penny Ballem explained at Wednesday’s meeting that the architecture and cultural value of the hotel could potentially put it on the Heritage Register, but a statement of significance is needed first.

On Ballem’s recommendation, council unanimously chose to enact a 120-day temporary protection order, which allows the city to complete a heritage assessment and report back to council by May 15.

Mayor Robertson also expressed his hope that Waldorf Productions would be able to continue, either at the Waldorf or at a different site, stating the importance of the city interceding on behalf of the Vancouver arts community when possible, even though the city does not always have the tools to do so.

Finally, an open letter released late Tuesday from the Waldorf Group, which has operated the hotel since 2010, said that they believe the rezoning process would mark “a key watershed moment” in the city’s ability to preserve space for the arts.

Unfortunately, the future of the Waldorf Hotel is again unclear, as it has been for most of its 65 years in existence. But you can trust that a watchful eye will be kept on Solterra, and the city’s response will certainly be measured under the scrutiny of the arts community.[hr]

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