Major renovation for Inn at Laurel Point; design in spirit of Arthur Erickson

A vision 30 years in the making is about to take shape at the Inn at Laurel Point at the entrance to Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

The hotel, acquired by Paul and Artie Arsens in 1980 and expanded by 1989, is about to undergo a six-month, $10-million renovation that will finally finish off what the now-deceased Arsens started with architect Arthur Erickson and designer Robert Ledingham.

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“I’m really stoked about this actually,” said Ian Powell, managing director of the Inn at Laurel Point. “It will really look like it should.”

Powell said the renovation — slated to start the week after Thanksgiving and run until April — will be very much in keeping with the look of the Erickson wing of the hotel, which was completed in 1989.

Powell hopes the renovation is seamless and people will eventually feel as though the new look was always there.

“This really is to finish off what was started,” he said, noting when he was the general manager of the Empress Hotel at the other end of the Inner Harbour he used to look across to the Laurel Point and think “one day that little darling will wake up.”

“I had no idea it was going to be me that would be doing the waking,” said Powell, who has now been with the Inn at Laurel Point for 12 years and overseen several improvements and renovations over that period.

This renovation, which will focus on the entrance, lobby and restaurant area, is well-timed as it comes after several strong years hotel performance and will coincide with a massive remediation around the hotel grounds.

The City of Victoria will spend up to $3.1-million to remediate contaminated Laurel Point Park, a former industrial site used for years to manufacture paint.

At the same time, Transport Canada will be cleaning up land around the park, a project that could cost as much as $25 million and take more than a year.

“It will be a [mess] around us, so it might as well be a [mess] inside,” said Powell.

The new design of the lobby area and entrance will mirror that of the Erickson wing and its use of glass to maximize its views.

Powell said the new raised and expanded lobby — it will be lifted 38 centimetres to lessen the slope of the corridor through the hotel — will feature a glass canopy offering a sweeping view of the Inner harbour.

Aura restaurant will be expanded, as will the kitchen, while the corridor through the lobby into the hotel will be moved to accommodate the expansion and improve sightlines.

“So whether you’re at one end or the other of the hotel you can see the water,” said Powell.

Some of the space across the corridor from Aura will be enhanced as a sitting room for guests, and more meeting space will be added.

Architect John Graham, of Graham Sherwin Studio, was brought in to design the project.

Graham was the junior architect on the hotel’s Erickson wing , and worked side by side with Arthur Erickson.

The new entrance is inspired by the Inn's waterfront location, which connects Victoria's inner and outer harbours.

Graham said the architectural style — modern, warm, relaxed and serene — is designed to reflect how guests feel in the space. “Guests will have the sensation of standing on the prow of a ship, and be greeted by sweeping views of the harbour, and beyond, from the moment they arrive,” said Graham.

The renovation will disrupt the hotel, though it will remain open throughout with a temporary entrance and check-in area.

There will be on-site catering for guests, but Aura will close for several months. On-site food and beverage will cease entirely in January, however, when the kitchen is renovated.

To minimize disruption, construction is to be limited to weekdays between about 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Powell said he hopes the timing works, and they will be ready to open when the tourists start coming back in numbers in the spring.

“You’re always going to lose something, but you want to minimize that as much as possible,” he said.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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