Queen Victoria Hotel bids farewell after 47 years

Hartnell family sells downtown inn for $19.25M

After 47 years, the Queen Victoria Hotel and Suites is booking its last guests.

At month's end, the eight-storey, 146-room hotel in a prime location on Douglas Street, just a chip shot from the Royal B.C. Museum, will hand over the keys to a new owner, Concert Properties of Vancouver, which is expected to convert the hotel into residences.

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"It's the end of an era. So many memories," said Anthony Hartnell, whose late father, Peter, opened the hotel in 1965 with development partner Vincent Patterson. Hartnell and siblings Cecilia, Roxanna and Justin sold the hotel to Concert in April and have been leasing it through the tourist season.

When the QV closes Oct. 1, "there are going to be a few tears shed," Hartnell said Tuesday. His first memory at the hotel is at about five years of age when his father sent him to the seventh floor alone on the elevator. He was frightened on the way up and relieved to be met by a secretary. Over the years, Hartnell and his brothers and sisters chipped in doing whatever was needed. Hartnell recalls one day when he was working in the laundry, Cecilia was at the front desk and another brother was installing tiles. "That was not atypical," he said with a smile.

The hotel is running with full staff - 60 in the hotel and 20 in the restaurant until the final guest checks out on the morning of Oct.

1. West Coast Liquidators will then start selling furnishings, including custommade furniture in the topend suites, and fittings before the property is turned over to Concert.

According to B.C. land title records, the hotel sold for $19.25 million. The property and building was valued at $11.8 million in the latest B.C. assessment.

Concert's plans are not clear. A company spokesperson could not be reached Tuesday. But the City of Victoria received a development permit application in August to change the property's use to residential (already allowed under its zoning) and reduce the amount of offstreet parking required. Concert builds condominiums and also develops rental and seniors housing.

Hartnell is hoping all 146 rooms will be filled on Sept. 30, the final night. Registered guests for that night have a chance to win $1,000.

When Hartnell announced the sale in April, he was concerned that it might affect occupancy in the tourist season, but that did not happen. Last month, the hotel had a 93 per cent occupancy level and it is running at 87 per cent so far this month, he said. "That's really good."

But as anyone in the hotel business knows, success is about more than filling rooms. "It is more a function of the average [room] rate," Hartnell said. "The average rate has been under attack for years" because people don't want to pay higher rates.

This summer, poor weather hammered the tourist industry. Hotels were offering discounts to win guests, a tourism consultant said earlier.

Long-term tour operators were loyal to the Queen Victoria this summer and many guests are sorry to see it close, Hartnell said. "We are getting tonnes of comments from people."

Paul Dishaw, owneroperator of Samuel's restaurant in the hotel for the past six months, and husband to Cecilia, received a hug from patron Hazel Bowman on Tuesday. Bowman's bridge group comes to Samuel's for lunch and then uses a side room for their game.

"It is really going to be missed," Bowman said. "It's good service. It's a very pleasant room."

Although the tourism industry has been challenging in recent years, Hartnell said that did not play a major role in the decision to sell. The siblings made a collective decision to "go out with bang. Business is good," he said. "Now there is an opportunity for us to look for new business opportunities on an individual basis."

Hartnell, 48, has not made long-term plans other than looking forward to spending more time with his family. They have a home in Majorca, an island off the east coast of Spain, and may spend more time there, he said.

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