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Developers simplify design in bid to save Vancouver luxury hotel

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Construction of an Arthur Erickson-designed luxury hotel and condo project is set to resume after the developer rejigged the plans.
Rendering of the Ritz Carlton Tower in Vancouver.
Rendering of the Ritz Carlton Tower in Vancouver.

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Construction of an Arthur Erickson-designed luxury hotel and condo project is set to resume after the developer rejigged the plans.

It was originally developed as the Ritz-Carlton Vancouver, but excavation work on the $500 million twisting tower was halted in October 2008.

The worldwide recession and the softening of the local housing market forced developer Holborn Group to develop a new building strategy.

“After we looked at all the options, we realized the process would have been much longer if we had designed a new building,” said Joo Kim Tiah, president of Holborn Group.

“The fastest way to have everything move was to keep the structure and make the building more efficient. It hit us that this project was very important to Vancouver, Canada and the architectural society of the world.”

Erickson, a world-renowned Canadian architect died in May of this year.

In a career spanning more than five decades, Erickson’s vision built landmark structures such as Robson Square, Simon Fraser University and the Canadian Embassy in Washington.

“It would have been a shame if the tower did not go ahead,” said Tiah.

“It is exciting to do something like this. We aspire to be a company that can build an iconic landmark in Vancouver.”

The original 58-storey project included 123 luxury condos on the top 38 floors and 127 hotel rooms on the first 20 floors.

The condos were priced from $1.4 million to $13 million.

“We were stuck in a situation in which we had a site with a hole that was not doing anyone any good,” said Tiah.

“It took a lot to maintain the site and we had interest payments as well. We had to find the quickest way to get the building going again.”

Holborn’s new strategy is to design the building to appeal to a lower segment of the housing market.

“Before we had 30 to 40 different floor plans and the plumbing wasn’t stacked,” Tiah explained.

“Now we are going with smaller floor plans and a better price point. We are getting rid of columns in the rooms to provide more space and using a shear wall system.”

Tiah said another way to lower the cost of the building is to replace ten inch slabs with eight inch slabs, which is the industry standard.

“It will still be an Arthur Erickson design and will still be a twisting tower,” he said.

“We will not be doing any changes to the exterior of the building. Most of the changes will be to the interior.

“We are asking for more height and this would allow more residential density. We will also change the interior layout and the specs of the finishes.”

The commercial density of the project will remain the same.

According to Tiah, Holborn has finished its revised plans for the highrise.

They will apply for rezoning at the end of the month.

“We have already talked to the City of Vancouver planning department and they are supportive of the changes,” he said

However, it still must be approved by council.

“There will be a public hearing in November and, if it all goes well, we could have approval for the changes by the end of the year,” he said.

Holborn is working on both the approval for the project and the permits at the same time.

Therefore, the company hopes to get the permits for the project in November as well.

Negotiations are currently taking place to reach an agreement with Ritz-Carlton hotels for the commercial aspect of the project.

Tiah said he hopes construction will restart early next year, but this may not be possible because the city doesn’t want construction work taking place during the Olympics.

This means that work may not resume until after the Olympics in March.

When it does get underway, construction will begin with the underground parking, which could take two years to finish.

If all goes well, the rest of the building will be completed in four years.

by Richard Gilbert

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