Opinion: What will happen to the Four Seasons Vancouver hotel after it closes?

May 3 2018, 2:59 am

Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, one of the first and most productive properties of the Canadian-based upscale hotel chain, will shut down its operations in 2020.

The announcement was made today after the hotel chain decided not to renew its lease, which expires in January 2020, with landlord Cadillac Fairview.

All of this begs the question: What will happen to the hotel building?

At 305-ft-tall with 30 storeys, the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver was one of the tallest buildings in the city when it opened in 1976, and it remains as one of the city’s largest hotels with 372 guest rooms.

There is no question that this closure will leave a void in downtown Vancouver’s accommodations capacity.

four seasons

The exterior of Four Seasons Vancouver Hotel. (Google Maps)

A spokesperson for CF told Daily Hive they are currently unable to comment on the future development plans for the hotel building, which is a part of the CF Pacific Centre complex.

But we can speculate based on some logical assumptions…

A full demolition of the tower would likely require a costly, time-intensive process similar to the ongoing piecemeal demolition of the Empire Landmark Hotel, which makes this option quite unlikely. The cheaper demolition alternative of an implosion is, of course, unfeasible given the built-out density of the immediate area and the presence of the popular shopping mall immediately below the site.

Any replacement development from demolition would have to be highly ambitious and incorporate a significant upscale residential component to recuperate the high demolition and construction costs.

For these reasons, a complete overhaul and renovation of the tower is most likely, but the exact use is up in the air.

So, could the entire tower be converted into condominiums? CF is known for being a retail and office developer and landlord, but it has made some headway into residential in recent years by partnering with residential developers. For instance, it is working with SHAPE Properties to add 1,800 units of housing to CF Richmond Centre. A residential conversion would provide CF with an immediate return.

However, CF is known for playing the long game, which would make a new hotel property most likely for the site.

This would entail leasing the tower to another major international hotel chain, with the requirement that they will gut the existing hotel interior to perform a rebuild.

Exterior renovations, such as new cladding for the weathered tower, could be required as well. And instead of a full hotel tower, some of the upper floors could be converted into residential units.

As for whether office space is a possibility, this option is highly unlikely given the latest standards of an attractive modern office space, which includes high ceilings. The hotel tower converted into office would be unable to compete with the growing number of new purpose-built office developments in the city.

The outdoor pool and rooftop courtyard at Four Seasons Vancouver Hotel. (Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts)

One luxury hotel chain that has long been interested in opening a presence in Vancouver is the Ritz Carlton, and this was reaffirmed by Marriott Canada president Don Cleary in a late-2017 interview with Business In Vancouver.

“We’re still looking to grow,” said Cleary. “Vancouver is a good hotel market. This can support quality luxury hotels. So for me, W, Ritz-Carlton, and St. Regis would be three brands we’d love to bring to the market.”

A major retrofit of the hotel was what CF was seeking in the developer’s lawsuit against Four Seasons Hotel Limited last year, which was the evolution of a dispute that began in 2015.

Court documents filed by CF accused Four Seasons of failing to “furnish and equip the Hotel in accordance with the standard of a typical first-class luxury hotel.”

“Four Seasons Hotels had furnished and equipped the hotel in an inconsistent and uninviting manner, with an overall appearance that was tired, dated and not in keeping with typical first-class luxury hotels,” reads the notice of civil claim.

“Among other things, certain public areas in the Hotel had been neglected and had not been updated for over 40 years and the Hotel’s guestrooms had been furnished and equipped with low-quality products and furnishings.”

The notice continues to say that the hotel is “in [a] manner that was below the ‘Four Seasons’ standards and inconsistent with the ‘Four Seasons’ brand and image,” adding that it is “below the standard of a typical luxury hotel by comparison, among other things, first-class luxury hotels in Vancouver, including the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Shangri-La Hotel, Fairmont Pacific Rim, and Fairmont Waterfront.”

As a result, CF alleged Four Seasons was in default of its lease, although none of the claims were proven in court. Four Seasons also rejected those claims, noting that its Vancouver hotel property performs strongly, has a four-diamond rating by the American Automobile Association, and is just one of six Canadian hotels with a recent five-star rating by Forbes.

CF Pacific Centre

Artistic rendering of the CF Pacific Centre expansion at the existing rotunda plaza. This project was approved by the City in 2016. (Perkins + Will Architects / Cadillac Fairview)

A complete retrofit of the hotel tower could perhaps even include a rebuild of the base of the building to squeeze in another retail space expansion of CF Pacific Centre.

Such a project could also theoretically incorporate a redesigned concept of the retail building redevelopment approved for the shopping mall’s plaza and glass rotunda at the northeast corner of the intersection of West Georgia Street and Howe Street – right next to the hotel tower’s entrance.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. When asked whether the three-storey, 35,000 sq. ft. retail and restaurant expansion will still proceed, the spokesperson with CF said the project will move forward. This expansion was approved a while ago by City Council in late-2016, but there have been no visible moves towards the construction phase.

There is no question the hotel tower’s future will be one of Vancouver’s most interesting developments to watch.

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