City to consider request to tear down Château Laurier parking garage

The City’s Built Heritage sub-committee will be voting on an application next week that requests the old parking garage at the Fairmont Chateau Lâurier be torn down.

The group Momentum Planning and Communications, which is involved in a planned addition to the hotel, has filed the application on behalf of the Château’s owners to demolish the garage, which was first built in 1969.

According to a statement from the City, an engineering analysis of the garage says it has deteriorated over the years because of salt infiltration and age. For safety reasons, the owners have stopped using the garage, as of this week.

All changes to the Château Laurier must be approved by City Council, because the historic hotel is protected under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Rideau-Rockcliffe Councillor Tobi Nussbaum, who chairs the Built Heritage Sub-committee, says he doesn’t anticipate a lot of pushback to the application.

“The way the heritage designation works is it’s actually attached to the property and because the garage is on the property, the owner requires a heritage permit,” he says, “but, that being said, the parking garage itself has no heritage value. It was built in 1969, it’s not a heritage parking garage.”

The garage was going to be removed to make way for a planned addition that was first unveiled in 2016, but the City says a revised application for that addition hasn’t been received yet (the initial proposal was widely criticized). The hotel’s owners are still looking at removing the old garage in the meantime.

“We’re told that we should expect a formal application in the next few months for the addition,” Nussbaum says. “Since the middle of last year, there was an expert group that was established to provide informal feedback – that’s something the City initiated – and the group provided the owner with some thoughts and advice on the application. From what I understand, the owners have taken that under advisement.”

Public consultation on the new application for the expanded Château Laurier will begin once that application is received.

As for the immediate future, the plan for the garage would be to tear down the top storeys, leaving only surface-level parking, and to repair one wall to allow it to shield cars from view. If approved, the work would start in February and would last approximately three months.

Nussbaum says he doesn’t expect any disruptions to traffic or to any Winterlude events because of the demolition, since the work is expected to remain on the property.

As well, the City says the demolition of the garage would not affect any future plans about what might be built in its place. The initial proposal recommended building an underground parking lot and erecting new suites at the back of the hotel, facing Major’s Hill Park.

The Built Heritage Sub-committee meets January 11. One of the main issues, Nussbaum expects, will not be the removal of the garage, so much as the care that must be taken during its demolition.

“There’s no question that the Château Laurier is one of the city’s most iconic buildings,” he says. “I think people feel a great attachment to it. It’s a real symbol of our city. Obviously, the Built Heritage committee and Council will want to make sure that the owners, when they take down the garage, are careful not to damage the existing hotel structure.”