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Gay space sold

Dufferin being eyed by developers, says city planner

Dufferin bar manager Cary Grant thinks the new owners will leave it as a gay establishment. Credit: Jacques Gaudet

The Dufferin hotelproperty has been sold. What will happen to it remains to be seen. But the land is already the subject of development inquiries at city hall.

Developers interested in the site have been meeting with city officials, says Michael Gordon of the city’s planning department.

“The property definitely is in play right now for development,” Gordon says.

Gerry Barteluk of Barteluk Hospitality confirms the hotel has been sold.

“It’s a local developer and they’re going to run it as a hotel and they’re going to invest in the property and get organized,” the hotel management consultant says.

“There’s certainly money going to be invested in the hotel, quite a considerable amount of money for the next six to eight months,” he continues. “I think everything’s going to be upgraded.”

He says the building is not going to be demolished, and hedges at the suggestion that it could be converted into a boutique hotel.

He does not know if the hotel will remain a gay establishment.

“I would assume so,” he says. “It’s done well under that market.”

Barteluk has worked in hotel management at such places as the Hotel Vancouver, the Bayshore and the Chateau Lake Louise. He was reluctant to name the Dufferin’s new owner.

Barteluk’s comments are backed up by the Dufferin’s bar manager, Cary Grant, who says the ownership change looks like a positive development.

“They say they will leave it as a gay establishment,” he says.

He hinted there are various companies involved in the project.

The developers who bought the building also own a number of properties along the blocks surrounding the hotel, Grant notes.

The area around the Dufferin is showing strong condominium development, Gordon says, and any changes at the site would have to incorporate mixed uses, including commercial space at twice the land area.

Community activist and author Billeh Nickerson says the hotel is a unique part of the city’s queer landscape.

But, in an article in Xtra West last year, he lamented that it too could be on the hit list for developers hungry for space downtown at the expense of the gay community.

“The Duff was the most radical space we had, a place where edgy artists could perform transgressive material, where strippers and hustlers entertained, where different classes of people could come together,” he wrote.

Last year, one of the Dufferin’s string of recent managers, Marty Walsh, told Xtra West that the hotel’s owner, Nizar Solehdin, was committed to the community.

Asked if there had been overtures to purchase the site owing to the large scale development the Yaletown area has seen in recent years, Walsh said: “Any building is always for sale.”

According to BC’s 2004 taxation records, the land was worth $2.7 million last year, while the building was estimated at just $645,000.

Those records also showed that the 900 Seymour St property was owned by the numbered company 593864 BC Ltd, with Solehdin listed as its sole director.

Contrary to persistent rumours in the community, the Dufferin Hotel is not a protected landmark building.

Of the four buildings at the intersection of Seymour and Smithe Sts, the building housing Staples is a registered landmark known as the Dominion Motors Building. Kitty corner to the Dufferin is The Orpheum, also a heritage building, according to records at city hall.

The Dufferin has the same status as the parking lot to the north, and is not a registered site.

City council, in conjunction with the city’s heritage commission and city planning department, can designate heritage buildings and can protect them from demolition or virtually any changes, inside or out.

If the community wanted to try to protect the Dufferin, it would be a long and complicated process, but it could be done.

It would be easier if the building’s new owners voluntarily agreed to a heritage designation. But if the owners are intent on re-developing the site, they would be unlikely to agree to such a designation.

If the city found some extraordinary historical value in the Dufferin, it could force the issue under the Vancouver Charter. But if the city forced the owners of the Dufferin to keep the building intact, it would have to compensate them for any change in the value of the property the designation caused.

Larry Beasley, the city’s planning director, would be responsible for recommending council extend heritage designation to the Dufferin. Xtra West wasn’t able to connect with Beasley before press time.

-Additional files from Matt Mills