Five years ago, plans were first announced for an Arthur Erickson-designed Ritz-Carlton Hotel tower at a site across the street from the Shangri-La Hotel. The project, also known as 1133 West Georgia, was temporarily put on hold when the 2008 recession hit. It was revived one year ago when markets showed signs of improvement, but without the Ritz-Carlton’s brand nor involvement. According to a CBC report, the project’s developers are now working with Donald Trump to give the tower more marketable potential. The skyscraper will be the second in Canada to be given the Trump brand – the Trump Tower Vancouver.
1133 West Georgia has been known to developer and urban planning circles as a cursed site. For more than twenty years, the property has been an eyesore. Construction began in the early-1990s on a mid-rise office tower with a major fitness gym in the lower levels. When its developers ran out of money, construction was halted and the building was never completed. An incomplete exoskeleton building structure stood there for fifteen years until it was demolished in 2008 for the construction of the Arthur Erickson-designed Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Erickson’s design was a glass version of the famous Turning Torso in Malmo, Sweden, designed by world renown Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The tower would twist 45-degrees from the ground level, it was no doubt one of the most beautiful and architecturally pleasing skyscrapers proposed for Vancouver.
A stunning legacy: it was Erickson’s parting gift to his city, and appropriately it will also be one of the city’s most visible buildings. This was the last building designed by Erickson before his death in 2009 (for those not familiar with Arthur Erickson, he was the architect behind Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby Mountain campus and the Robson Square courthouse). It was advertised as the second tallest building in the city, short of just a few metres of Shangri-La Vancouver across the street. Beyond the beautiful exterior, 1133 West Georgia’s innards were intended for an five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the lower floors and high-end residential condo units on the upper floors, with units priced between $2.5-million to $10-million in addition to a $28-million penthouse.
Since 2008, a large construction hole sat on the site and when the project was revived last spring, workers returned to the site to complete the excavation in preparation for the next stage of construction. Project developer Holborn Group also retained Erickson’s original iconic design for the tower, but with major changes in the layout of the building in order to make the development more economical in these current markets.
Eight floors have been added to the building through lower ceiling heights and the City of Vancouver’s approval of the developer’s request to increase the building’s height by 5-metres. The tower now stands at 67-storeys and a height of 188-metres (617-feet), giving the allowance to increase the number of condo units from 163 to 290 and hotel rooms from 127 to 187. In contrast, Shangri-La Vancouver is 201-metres (659-feet) and its close proximity (across the street) to the city’s to-be-built second tallest tower will give the Downtown skyline a firmer height “peak.”
The Holborn Group is also making the project more marketable and economically viable by decreasing the prices of the condo units, down to $1,500 per square foot with 1 bedroom units to start at $800,000 (originally $2.5-million). The average Vancouverite will not be buying units in this building – the average square foot price in Vancouver is $600.
Finally, there is also the building’s new brand – the Trump Tower Vancouver. This is all part of the Holborn Group’s strategy to market the luxury building to international (wealthy) buyers. However, Trump’s brand and image has gone quickly downhill in the decade since his initial success and widespread fame with his NBC reality show, The Apprentice. Given this fact, it makes one question the wisdom of associating the project with the Trump brand. It begs the question, is this branding really necessary? Is Arthur Erickson rolling in his grave?
While it is true that the value of Donald Trump’s brand and image has suffered immensely in recent years (in case you have been living in a cave: countless high-profile scandals; his recent business failures and questionable business practices; a failed and half-hearted [but comical] run for the American presidency; numerous political controversies that have publicly revealed his monster ego, and a bigoted and racist persona), his brand still holds great value internationally. After all, this is not a building being marketed to the average, liberal-educated and minded Vancouverite.
It is important to note that Donald Trump is not investing in the tower, he is merely selling his Trump brand to the developer. The developers of the recently completed 65-storey Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto also took the same path. Like the Toronto tower, the hotel aspect of this new Vancouver skyscraper will likely be operated by the five-star Trump Hotel Collection chain.
We will be seeing “the Donald” and his trademark hair fly into Vancouver in a few years to cut the red ribbon. For this fan of great architecture, if this is what it takes for this $500-million architectural gem to be feasible for its developers, then so be it. This city is in great need of and deserves better architecture.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below.
Written and researched by Kenneth Chan, a Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Follow Kenneth on Twitter at @kjmagine.
Image credits: Holborn Group
More renderings of 1133 West Georgia as the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. While the project is currently no longer affiliated with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain, the architectural design of the building will remain the same with its new life as the Trump Tower Vancouver.