A hotel project that could transform a corner of the downtown core was unveiled Wednesday night.
Merchant House Capital, which bought the west side of the 1100 block of Blanshard Street in December 2018, revealed detailed plans for a 20-storey hotel at the corner of Fort and Blanshard streets at a meeting organized by the Victoria Downtown Residents Association.
It’s the first step toward the company’s Montrose Wintergarden project that also includes renovation of the historic 1912 Montrose Building, which occupies half of the block at the corner of Blanshard and View streets.
Merchant chief executive David Fullbrook said transformation of the corner, where a Monk Office store is now located, ushers in a new style of development in the city that is more open to the public.
“The intent, from my perspective, is to create something that has the potential to be a destination and a landmark,” he said.
The new building will feature a three-storey podium rising from grade level that will include a massive glass atrium and open space, with restaurants, cafés and services for the public as well as hotel guests.
A spiral staircase will lead from the podium to the fourth floor and a public lounge that will serve as a transition to a 65.5-metre tower.
The tower is expected to contain 128 full-service units offering hotel guests an “Airbnb experience” with full kitchen and laundry facilities and the option of longer stays.
Fullbrook said the building’s podium complements the existing esthetic of Fort Street while aligning with the neighbouring Montrose building.
The tower, with its sleeker appearance rising from the podium, is designed to “communicate” with the spire of St. Andrew’s Cathedral on the next block.
“I think it signals there is an evolution going on within the city and our downtown core has really transformed,” he said.
Fullbrook said they are aware a hotel at that corner is a little off the beaten tourist path of the Inner Harbour, but he argued tourists, especially those who use vacation rental services such as Airbnb, often want to stay and experience where locals live and work.
He would not name the management company that has signed on to run the hotel.
“This will achieve everything done by Airbnb, but it will be professionally operated by an international platform and there will be none of the drawbacks of an Airbnb — it is a known quantity, with no surprises or hiccups,” he said.
Fullbrook said the location will suit business travellers and those involved in the tech industry, which has clustered downtown.
Hospitality industry consultant Frank Bourree said the hotel could do well in that location, at least right now, because of the current room shortage.
“When you’re at 75 per cent average occupancy [in the city], it absolutely encourages hotel development in this community. There is definitely a market for it.”
However, Bourree warned, long-term success will be determined by the cost of land, the cost of construction during a building boom and whether the hotel will be able to charge a premium for rooms in a city-centre location rather than on the harbour.
“It will be great for the city, but will it be great for the investors? I’m not sure,” he said.
Fullbrook would not speculate on the timeline for the project. A rezoning would be required to accommodate the hotel tower, but no application has been filed.
As for the Montrose Building, which was built by the Andrew Sheret plumbing company for its head office in 1912, Fullbrook said there will be extensive exterior renovations, but the plan is to keep residents and ground-floor businesses operating during the work.
“There will be some disruption and I imagine the whole building will be scaffolded at some point,” he said.