Despite an outpouring of public support for the operators of the Waldorf Hotel, who have turned the aging structure into a highly popular cultural hub, efforts to keep them in business there beyond the weekend appear doomed.
“There had been a glimmer of hope that Solterra [which has bought the Waldorf] would do the right thing, but I’ve lost a lot of hope in that regard,” said Thomas Anselmi, entertainment producer for Waldorf Productions. “Our last day of production is going to be Saturday. It’s going to be very sad.”
The operators chose to shut down at the Waldorf after learning the hotel had been sold to a developer and they were unable to secure more than a week-to-week lease. As Mr. Anselmi spoke, scores of supporters rallied on the back lawn of City Hall in an attempt to save the diverse, eclectic programming and activities that Waldorf Productions has been staging at the hotel since taking over operations in 2010.
Rally organizer Jen Cook agreed there was little chance of a last-minute deal to keep Waldorf Productions in place.
“Realistically, it probably won’t happen. They will probably have to vacate for a while. But we can still turn the tide on this,” Ms. Cook insisted. “There’s so much community support. Nothing’s been sealed yet.”
Earlier Tuesday, city council voted to prevent any move to demolish the 65-year-old hotel for the next 120 days. During that time, city staff will assess the building’s heritage significance.
But councillor Heather Deal admitted this will not save the production team’s business at the Waldorf.
“No, it doesn’t keep them there,” Ms. Deal told reporters. “This is actually about the building itself. There’s a limit to what the city can do in terms of a private production company and their success as a business.”
She said council’s hands are tied given that the interested parties include a private landowner, a private developer and a private company. “This is about the city using its tools to protect the building.”
Solterra Group, which recently bought the hotel from its long-time owners, has said it has no plans “at this point” to demolish the East Vancouver hotel.
Mayor Gregor Robertson, who has spearheaded council’s involvement to preserve the Waldorf, called the short-term demolition ban a tool the city can use to encourage the parties to resolve their differences and keep the cultural and artistic venues going.
“The cultural value of this hotel is very significant … But [council’s action] may not be a solution that solves the predicament,” Mr. Robertson acknowledged.
Among those sad to see the current operators turn off the lights is Local 40 of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees’ Union, which represents the 60 unionized staff at the Waldorf. Hotel operations include a restaurant and a licenced bar and lounge.
Local president Jim Pearson paid tribute to the revitalization of the hotel by Waldorf Productions. “It had become a run-down beverage establishment, but these guys really created something unique. It’s really a shame that it appears to be coming to an end.” Mr. Pearson said the operators had a rough go at the beginning, falling $100,000 behind in health and welfare payments to the union. “But in the past few months, they’d paid off half that debt. I think they had really turned the corner, and were going to be successful in the long run.“
A representative of the owners, who intend to keep the hotel open for business until Solterra takes possession on Sept. 1, said there is no way to keep Waldorf Productions on site.
“As far as my client is concerned, the Rubicon has been crossed,” said lawyer Gavin Crickmore. “Their business was simply not commercially tenable to keep going.”
Those in attendance at Tuesday’s Waldorf support rally were entertained by two former burlesque performers at the hotel, April O’Peel and Voodoo Pixie, who staged a few bumps and grinds despite the chilly weather.
“Conceptually, what they were doing was really interesting. They were trying to create an artistic hub,” said Ms. O’Peel. “So many venues seem to be closing down in Vancouver. It feels like we’re crashing and burning.”