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Victoria’s Empress Hotel bought by Vancouver’s Nat and Flora Bosa

Vancouver developer and philanthropist Nat Bosa and his wife, Flora, have bought the Empress Hotel.
The new owner of the Empress Hotel and members of his company's management team stand in front of the hotel in June. From left: Steve Halliday, asset manager; Nat Bosa, owner of the hotel (along with his wife, Flora) and head of Bosa Development Corp.; and Richard Weir, executive vice-president of real estate and development.

Vancouver developer and philanthropist Nat Bosa and his wife, Flora, have bought the Empress Hotel.

Bosa toured his new Victoria property on Friday, meeting 14 senior managers all sporting running shoes because they heard their new boss is fast-moving.

“She’s a lovely old princess,” Bosa said in an interview. “It’s a fabulous hotel. The bones are great. We just need to enhance the hotel, and we are going to have a proper program to do that.

“We want to make this even a better experience for the guests that come here.”

A master plan will be developed, he said. It will be implemented as soon as possible while not rushing and making mistakes.

The 106-year-old Empress Hotel was designed by Francis Rattenbury, who was also the architect for B.C.’s legislaure, as one of Canadian Pacific Railway’s chateau-style hotels.

It was sold to the Bosas by Ivanhoe Cambridge, a subsidiary of Quebec pension manager Caisse de dépôt et placement, which bought the Empress in 2007. Ivanhoe Cambridge put the Empress on the market at an undisclosed price as part of a move to reduce hotel holdings.

B.C. Assessment has pegged the value of the 477-room Empress building and land at $89.9 million, putting it in the top league of value for Victoria-area properties. Bosa is not disclosing how much he paid.

Bosa Development Corp. is well known for condominium projects in the Vancouver area as well as Whistler, Calgary and California. It is also a property management firm.

This is Bosa’s first hotel. Why did he buy it?

“I was trying to find a reason not to,” he said with a smile. “Then my wife got on the website and she said, ‘Look, there’s not very many complaints about the hotel’ … So I guess she had a little bit of influence with me. It didn’t take much convincing, though.”

The hotel is an iconic building and it is a privilege to own it, he said.

“Every once in a while something appears in front of you. If you happen to have the capability at the time, we do certain things that many other times we would find excuses why it is not right.

“So let’s just say that everything seemed to have come together at this point.”

Friday’s visit was Bosa’s third to the hotel, a National Historic Site and landmark on Victoria’s Inner Harbour. It is famed for its tea and is a must-see stop on tourist agendas.

With a staff of 500, the hotel is a major private-sector employer in the capital region.

The sale closed Friday morning, just 20 days after Bosa expressed serious interest in the property. The transaction was “remarkably fast,” said Richard Weir, executive vice-president of real estate and development for Bosa Development Corp.

Asked if he is planning to buy more hotels, Bosa replied, “Why would I want any other hotel? What fun would that be? This is not just another hotel. This is Victoria. This is B.C. This is history.”

Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, the long-term Empress manager, remains in place. Bosa expects that Flora Bosa will be influential from the sidelines. “I think it is great that it is owned by an individual instead of a public company. Chances are that it will probably have more care and attention from a small group of private individuals,” he said.

Bosa has not had tea or stayed overnight in his new property, but said he had a “great” lunch there.

Investing in a hotel is similar to other projects he’s been involved with, he said. “It is exactly the same as the real estate business that I’m in. There are ups and downs. It’s not always up. So that’s part of the game, that’s part of the challenge. If it was too easy, everybody would be in it and it would be a crowded road.

“It presents an exciting challenge.”

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