Boutique future for historic St. Regis hotel

Thursday, September 28th, 2006

Multimillion-dollar restoration aimed at attracting corporate clients

Ashley Ford

As managing director, Stephanie Nicolls is running day-to-day operations at the St. Regis during its $5-million makeover. Photograph by : Jon Murray, The Province

Every real “lady” deserves a makeover and that is exactly what Rob Macdonald has in store for his venerable and historic downtown St. Regis Hotel.

The principal of Macdonald Development Corp. has big plans to turn the property into one of the city’s top boutique hostelries.

“I like doing this sort of thing and now is the time to upgrade this historic property and restore it to its former glory,” he says.

He thinks it might cost up to

$5 million to remake the 72-room icon property that has stood at the corner of Dunsmuir and Seymour since 1916.

Essentially, he’s prepared to spend whatever it takes to get the job done over the next couple of years.

To that end, he has brought in marketing consultant Stephanie Nicolls, who knows a thing or two about the hotel industry, to be managing director and run day-to-day operations.

Noted Vancouver designer Elaine Thorsell of BOTI Interiors Inc. also is being brought on board for the critical design work. “In this field she is the best in the city,” Macdonald says.

“We are in the process of acquiring an architect and I will oversee the renovations,” he says.

Jaded though the five-storey hotel may be, it occupies a prime downtown site and sits next door to the recently completed, $110-million Hudson condo/retail project that includes the old B.C. Electric Co. showroom located at the corner of Dunsmuir and Granville.

The Hudson brought together the considerable development skills of Peter and Bruno Wall of Wall Financial and Macdonald.

And that brings advantages to the St. Regis as its neighbour can provide parking for hotel guests and eventually also access to a round-the-clock fitness centre in the Hudson, says Nicolls.

She says a wall will also be knocked down to provide direct access to the toney neighbouring Gotham steakhouse, operated by David Aisenstat, owner of the Keg restaurant chain’s outlet on Seymour.

Aisenstat also is putting an upmarket Shore Club seafood restaurant into the B.C. Electric building that is due to open next March.

“When you look at that and where we are situated to other downtown venues we expect to be very successful,” she says.

“We want to make this a top level boutique hotel that will enable us to go after increased corporate clients in addition to our valued tourist clients,” Nicolls said.

She estimates the remake will take a couple of years to complete.

The hotel’s exterior will be restored to its original condition, while the rooms will get a remake, with some possibly being enlarged to cater to current client demands.

That might mean fewer rooms, Nicolls says.

It’s likely that the current, tiny elevator also will be replaced and the lobby completely overhauled.

Nicolls acknowledges the aim is to bring the St. Regis up to the level of Eleni Skalbania’s Wedgewood, which has long been the standard for boutique hotels in the city.

The St. Regis is the last surviving example in the downtown area of a pre-First-World-War-designed hotel.

It was designed by W.T. Whiteway in 1913 and completed by builder E.J. Ryan, who also built the Hotel Vancouver, in 1916.

Whiteway also was architect for the Sun Tower and the original 1903 Woodwards store.

The St. Regis is a designated Vancouver Heritage building.

Its distinctive neon sign that has beamed out over the downtown since 1920 is expected to continue doing so for decades to come.

© The Vancouver Province 2006

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