Landmark West End hotel likely to be demolished to make way for condo development

The Empire Landmark hotel has been a West End icon since it went up in 1973. It’s tall (42 storeys, 120 metres), thin, and has a nifty revolving restaurant/bar on top that offers breathtaking views.

But it also sits on a full block in the 1400-block Robson, in the middle of a neighbourhood that’s being transformed into a forest of luxury highrises. And it looks like the 43-year-old structure will be coming down for a new condo development.

Plans went up on the city of Vancouver’s website Friday for two towers in the 1400-block — one 28 storeys high, the other 30.

The towers would be around 100 metres high, which is almost 25 per cent shorter than the existing building. But with high-end condos going for up to $1,800 per square foot in the neighbourhood, the redevelopment would probably be far more lucrative than running the current 357-room hotel.

The plan by Musson Cattel Mackey architects would see a mixed-use project with 223 market condos, 57 social housing units, two floors of offices and retail on the main floor. The overall project would have 393,850 square feet of floor area. 

The site is owned by 1488 Robson Holdings Ltd., whose directors have the same address as the Hong Kong-based Asia Standard Hotel Group. Property records showed it sold in April for $46,528,000. It has had Hong Kong owners since 1997.

Heritage expert Don Luxton isn’t surprised the Landmark may be redeveloped.

“We’re watching this happen all over the city,” he said.

“The new frontier for developers is stratas and 1970s buildings. They’re buying them up all over the place and looking to tear then down, because they’re often underbuilt for their zoning potential.”

 The Empire Landmark may be tall, said Luxton, but it isn’t really all that big. 

“It’s actually a very slender floor plate,” said Luxton.

“It’s tall, but there’s not that much square footage. And seismically (1970s buildings) are not anywhere near what they need to be. So you look at upgrading these buildings and it costs a fortune — it’s easier to tear them down.”

There has been a lot of speculation about what effect the provincial government’s new 15 per cent tax on foreign ownership will have on the condo market. But Luxton doesn’t think it will be much of a deterrent to rich foreign buyers willing to spend $2 million for a pied-a-terre.

“At those prices, pffff, a 15 per cent tax is nothing,” Luxton said. “It’s lunch money.”

Kirk Kuester of Colliers International notes that Bosa recently sold out a luxury condo development at Cardero and Georgia, with prices in the $1,700-$1,800-per-square-foot range.

“Demand seems to be holding for ultra-high end, really rare, unique type product, based on some recent sales,” said Kuester.

Green councillor Adriane Carr laments the way the redevelopment along Georgia, Alberni and Robson seems to be high-end.

“Do we really need a ton more high-end condos in this city?” she said.

“The building of them is turning Vancouver into a resort city, where we don’t have affordable housing for people who work here, who’ve grown up here, who have brought their families here and want to live here, but can’t afford to.

“It’s a crisis. Everyone knows it’s a crisis in this city.”

The redevelopment has come in the wake of the city’s new West End Community Plan, which raised the heights in certain areas.

“It’s rather tragic that the West End plan has pointed development along the Robson corridor and over towards Burrard, with very tall buildings, (up to) 60 storeys,” said Carr.

Luxton said there may be many more ’70s and ’80s buildings downtown coming down in the current real estate boom.

“1090 West Pender is up for demolition, it’s part of a rezoning and will be replaced by a much larger office tower,” he said.

“Anchor Point (at Burrard and Pacific), there’s rumblings about that one. Pretty much everything in the city is up for grabs. We’re into a new stage in Vancouver, I would say.”

The Empire Landmark was originally known as the Sheraton Landmark. It is an example of the brutalist style of architecture popular in the early 1970s, with an exposed cement exterior. The proposed buildings that will replace it are light, airy glass towers.


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