Big Changes in the Future for Fairmont Empress

Victoria’s Fairmont Empress, recently named the best building on Vancouver Island by the Architecture Foundation of B.C., is set to undergo a $30-million upgrade and renovation.

The new owners, Nat and Flora Bosa of Vancouver, who purchased the Empress last June, announced the plan at the launch of the hotel’s new outdoor ice rink on Wednesday. Steve Halliday, asset manager for the Bosas, says that while nothing has been finalized, the estimated $30-million renovation will focus on upgrading the hotel’s finishings, furniture and fixtures, as well as making improvements to the spa and swimming pool, and areas such as the tea room and Bengal Lounge. The Bosas are currently working out a “master-plan” with Canadian Architect James Chang, known internationally for his work on the Shangri-La and the Fairmont Pacific Rim in Vancouver.

“The vision of the hotel is for it to be the business and social destination of British Columbia,” Halliday says. “We have a lot of interest from groups in Canada and the U.S., who are looking for something more and we are going after that market — the national and international conventions. And that’s good for the community.”

Halliday also confirmed that Pacific Coach Lines will be vacating the bus depot at 700 Douglas St. in the next 18 months and that the current plan is to use the space to construct long-term rental residential units with high-end retail on the first floor.

“There’s going to be a tremendous market for that,” he says. “People who want to sell their home or just want to live part-time in Victoria and travel the world.”

Both Halliday and Nat Bosa stressed the importance of respecting the heritage aspects of the Empress within any plans for the property.

“If it was just a hotel, I probably wouldn’t have bought it,” said Bosa, in his remarks at the launch of the skating rink. “It’s the Empress. She’s a beautiful old lady. She’s a hobby. She gives a lot of joy. It borders between philanthropy and business.”