When Nat Bosa paid $48 million for the Fairmont Empress Hotel three years ago, he figured renos would come in at $30 million — or a little more.
Not so. The tab to completely refresh the 109-year-old property was slightly more than $60 million.
But it was worth it to Bosa.
“I did not buy a hotel,” Bosa said Wednesday as he prepared for an official ribbon-cutting celebration and party attended by more than 400.
“I bought a national treasure and it belongs to everybody. This was an absolute incredible opportunity to have to been able to restore this grand old lady to close to its former glory.”
Historic elements in the National Historic Site were saved, Bosa said.
One of his favourite improvements was the revamping of the Gold hotel room area, which saw five suites removed to create a spacious lounge with access to an upgraded deck overlooking the harbour.
“It is one of the finest Gold lounges of any Fairmont anywhere.”
Exterior bricks were repointed and the ivy is gone — for good. Ivy damaged the exterior and housed wildlife. One night, Bosa spotted four raccoons walking along the ledge outside the Gold lounge.
Visitors can now see the stone that had been hidden, he said.
Another major project was restoring all 1,400 windows with plate glass, which helps with soundproofing and is energy efficient, Bosa said.
The new port-cochere gives the hotel a sense of entry, he said.
As for busting the budget, he said: “Once you start doing it, you can’t stop. You cannot stop halfway.
“You cannot start getting a shirt, a tie, a suit and if you don’t have any money to buy a decent pair of socks and shoes. You are going to look ridiculous. So you’ve got to finish it,” he said with a smile. “I definitely am very pleased with the results.”
The renovation with its building beautification is a great enhancement of Victoria, Bosa said.
Bosa heads up Vancouver-based Bosa Development, which has built major projects in locations such as the Lower Mainland, Calgary, Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego.
Nat and Flora Bosa announced on June 27, 2014, that they had bought the hotel from Ivanhoe Cambridge. At that time, Nat Bosa said the Empress was “tired” and needed a major renovation.
It took a better part of a year to develop a plan and then work began. “The renovation has taken less than two years, which is amazing,” he said.
The Bosas dreamed of restoring the Empress to its former glory. “True to my words at the time, this old mistress has given me some headaches, has cost me one hell of a lot of money, but it is now beginning to bring us some pleasure,” Bosa said.
It has a new lobby, renovations to 464 rooms, including air conditioning, the improved Gold area, updated meeting spaces, development of the Q at the Empress and Q Bar, upgraded pool and health club and renovated spa. “Twill Flower,” a six-metre high custom-designed chandelier from Lasvit, a Czech lighting company, is a standout feature in the redesigned lobby. It is made up of about 250,000 crystals.
“We’ve taken a landmark building and restored the original architectural elements with modern, elegant touches,” Empress manager Indu Brar said. “It’s a fairy tale transformation and a milestone for this beautiful castle. And we are ready for the world to see it.”
About 75 travel writers are visiting the hotel this week, some from as far as New York and Washington, D.C.
Tourism consultant Frank Bourree is impressed with the renos, saying the lobby is beautiful and more functional. “They have done a superb job on modernizing but staying true to the heritage of the building.” The hotel’s renovation will attract international attention and provide an incentive for people to come to Victoria, he said. Anything new in the tourism sector is worth promoting to raise the city’s profile, Bourree said.
Paul Hawes, Tourism Victoria’s chief marketing and distribution officer, said the Empress “has shaped our destination and Greater Victoria’s history for more than 100 years. Today, the ‘Return of the Queen’ and its glorious renovation provides tourists with even more reason to visit our world-class destination.”
The hotel’s “Return of the Queen” theme is based on Queen Victoria, who was Empress of India.
Still to come is a decision from city hall on a proposed eight-storey, long-term rental building at 700 Douglas St., the former site of the bus depot and part of the Bosa hotel holdings.
It would have ground-floor commercial with upper levels for high-end housing, according to a rezoning application submitted this month to city hall.