Breathing new life into Old Town Victoria heritage hotel

Victoria Plaza undergoing further refinements to its original look

Pedestrians walk under the old Plaza Hotel sign on Government Street. It’s uncertain whether the sign will stay as part of the building’s redevelopment.

When Henry Sandham Griffith first sketched the drawings for the Hotel Westholme in 1910, he likely didn’t imagine it would evolve into a now-defunct strip club and a rooming house with a public urinal marking its street corner.

Known today as the Plaza Hotel, the Old Town building at 603-607 Pandora Ave. has had its share of eclectic tenants, from its first restaurant, the Songhees Grill, in 1911 to the Beatnik Coffee House in the 1960s, where spoken word poets gathered in smoke-filled rooms to throw down their jives.

But a rebirth is finally on the horizon for the heritage registered building. Council will decide in the coming weeks whether to move to public hearing on new plans that would see two additional storeys of residences and a public plaza on the corner of Pandora and Government streets.

“We’ve worked very hard with the city and planning staff over the last year to try and find something they’re supportive of,” said Jordan Milne, president of GMC Projects, which hopes to develop the building.

The city’s planning and land-use committee was scheduled to consider the proposed alterations and an upgrade to heritage designation Thursday.

A significant change in the new plans is along the storefront on Government Street, where the Monty’s and Metropolis awnings currently hide the building’s Edwardian heritage features.

Milne hopes to restore the original bay windows and brick exposure and house up to four commercial tenants on the ground level.

“We’ve also created an inner courtyard that will be accessible off the public right of way, and we’ll have two live-work units that are on the inside of the courtyard on the main level,” Milne said.

A total of 106 units would be created as part of a two-storey addition to the hotel, he added.

Downtown Residents Association chair Ian Sutherland is endorsing the new plans, and in a letter of support, he commends the developer for agreeing to a setback of the upper storeys to hide them from street view. The public urinal at Pandora Street would also be relocated at the developer’s expense.

But those changes may not be enough for Victoria Coun. Pam Madoff, who sits on the planning and land-use committee.

She worries incremental height and density changes to the buildings in Old Town could eventually erode the character of the neighbourhood.

“Individually, each building may not be considered world-class, but as a collection of buildings in an intact district, we really do have a world-class heritage precinct in our city.”

Coun. Lisa Helps said the focus should be creating vibrancy in the downtown core.

“One of the things that appeals to me with this is the public realm element,” Helps said. “They’ve made it a kid-friendly space and there aren’t a lot of those downtown.”

dpalmer@vicnews.com

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