Three years after the Plaza Hotel was reduced to smouldering rubble, life is starting to stir at the corner of Government Street and Pandora Avenue.
Ocean Gate Developments, the Vancouver owners of the site, has unveiled plans for a 150-room hotel and large outdoor public plaza.
“This corner is pretty pathetic and people are coming to visit Victoria and this is not a great area right now — we are going to make it better,” said Francis Mairet, partner in Ocean Gate and principal of Victoria-based hotel management firm Mairet Hotels.
The century-old Plaza Hotel was destroyed in May 2019 by a fire that police determined was deliberately set.
Ocean Gate Developments had bought the 65-room hotel in 2016 and in 2017 applied to the city to build a 100-unit condo project on the site.
Mairet joined the company as a partner and convinced his colleagues to change direction.
Mairet said they considered a higher-end boutique hotel, but decided the city was well served in that category already, and opted to focus on the mid-range market instead.
The company has made a deal with Hilton Worldwide to brand the hotel Hampton by Hilton.
“It’s a brand that is generating a lot of traffic because the rooms are great, you get free breakfast and you don’t have to take out a mortgage to come and stay there,” said Mairet.
Ocean Gate held a public meeting Wednesday night to give residents and businesses a first look at what is planned for the site — a 150-room hotel with commercial space at grade and a large open-space plaza on the corner facing the McPherson Playhouse and Centennial Square.
The proposal has not yet gone to the City of Victoria. Mairet said they wanted public feedback first.
“If we had a final project and no desire to hear from the public, we would’ve presented our application immediately [to the city],” he said. “But being from Victoria and having operated in Victoria for some time, I am aware of the path that you have to follow.”
If feedback is overwhelmingly negative, “then this is going stay a hole for a little while,” Mairet said.
At this stage, plans are for a seven-storey building and four levels of underground parking.
Building a hotel with fewer than 150 rooms is not viable, given the anticipated $50-million construction budget, Mairet said, pointing to the cost of excavating for parking and building in the centre of the city.
Victoria has lost about 1,000 hotel rooms over the past decade due to hotel conversions to rental accommodation, seniors housing and other purposes, and Mairet said only 380 of those rooms have been replaced.
“[Destination Greater Victoria] does a great job and is really active trying to drum up business, but they can’t sell what they don’t have,” he said.
Mairet said businesses and residents who have caught wind of the plan have already responded positively. “They are so happy that we are building a hotel there, because it is a 24-hour business,” which means more eyes on the street at all hours.
Mairet said they expect to have more than 60 full-time staff.
“So the community at large, restaurants and boutiques and the theatre and all of that, is going to benefit immediately from this.”
He said Ocean Gate expects to bring a rezoning and development application to the city this year and hopes to start construction in 2024, with completion in late 2026.