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Notorious Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to be demolished

‘The building poses a risk of injury to the public and persons adjacent to the building in the event of a fire or similar incident’
The city said Tuesday the Balmoral Hotel it purchased in 2020 from the Sahota family will be demolished. File photo Dan Toulgoet

The city-owned Balmoral Hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside will be demolished.

The city’s chief building official issued an order Tuesday (Feb. 15) requiring the notorious hotel on East Hastings Street to be knocked down “due to numerous life-safety concerns."

“The building poses a risk of injury to the public and persons adjacent to the building in the event of a fire or similar incident,” the city said in a news release.

“Despite the city’s ongoing efforts to maintain the safety of the building, the decades of underinvestment and mismanagement by the building’s previous owners was irreversible.”

The Balmoral has been vacant since the city forced its closure in 2017.

The city said that after receiving two third-party engineering reports on the current fire and structural risks, it became clear the hotel has deteriorated to the point that it poses a danger to the public and adjacent buildings.

“Demolition planning has commenced and staff will work expeditiously to execute the order,” the city said.

“Given the age, complexity and condition of the building, removing the building will take several months to complete. The city is actively working to engage contractors to scope and complete this work.”

$1 million in security costs

The city purchased the Balmoral and the Regent Hotel, which is across the street from the Balmoral, from the Sahota family in 2020. The city never released the purchase price.

Glacier Media reported in November 2021 the hotels racked up roughly $1 million in costs related to security and other charges to protect them from further deteriorating or catching fire.

Since the purchase of the hotels, the city had paid $91,000 per month to protect the buildings and maintain a “fire watch,” according to information supplied to Glacier Media from the city last fall.

The monthly tab included costs for maintenance and utilities, with funds coming from empty homes tax revenue. A preliminary report on the 2022 budget requested another $500,000 be spent this year for security at the hotel sites.

“The city has an obligation to ensure these buildings are maintained to address existing risks and so that they can provide future housing in the Downtown Eastside,” the city said in an email at the time.

“Advancing work on these two sites with BC Housing is a high priority for the city.”

The city’s announcement Tuesday was confirmation of what BC Housing CEO Shayne Ramsay told Glacier Media in May 2021 — that the Balmoral would be demolished and possibly part of a land assembly purchase to develop a large housing and health centre on the block.

Such a real estate move would mean buying at least two properties from Concord Pacific, another property belonging to the Sahota family, a building that houses the Insite injection site, a cannabis dispensary and a few other buildings.

Land assembly 'makes a lot of sense'

Developer Peter Wall of Wall Financial has proposed the city and province work with him to build at least 168 units of housing, a medical centre, injection site and treatment rooms on the properties.

“We’re going to have discussions with Wall if the private sector is interested in looking at being part of an assembly and redevelopment,” Ramsay said at the time.

“It may not be something like [Wall’s proposal], but the assembly around the Balmoral with the redevelopment of that strip makes a lot of sense. But what you put there is still up for discussion.”

The Regent and Balmoral have made the city’s top-10 list of problem hotels for almost 20 years and have been cited by police in numerous reports for drug activity, violence and other crimes.

Glacier Media reported in April 2018 that police responded to 845 calls in and outside the Regent between Jan. 1, 2017 and Feb. 22, 2018; the Balmoral generated 248 calls for the same period, although it was closed in June 2017.

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