Refreshed Walper Hotel a symbol of downtown Kitchener’s resurgence
A $10-million investment has not only restored the historic gem but it has also given the rebounding city a missing amenity – upscale, boutique lodging
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED APRIL 23, 2019
Jazz legends Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong once stayed there. So did Eleanor Roosevelt and the Queen Mother. But over recent decades, The Walper Hotel’s appeal – and appearance – declined.
Today, though, thanks to a $10-million transformation and reinvention led by Perimeter Development Corp., the boutique hotel in Kitchener is back in ascendancy and has become the hot spot to rest your head in Waterloo Region – for everyone from locals on staycations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who had a recent stay.
“When it came about to be involved in acquiring the hotel, we jumped at it,” says Craig Beattie, founding partner at Perimeter Development. “We saw it as an opportunity to bring that hotel back to what it once was. We’ve been working on a lot of different projects in downtown Kitchener for a number of years, and through all the relationships we’ve built with the tech community and local CEOs, we kept hearing time and time again that the missing piece was amenities downtown, in particular quality accommodation.
“Companies would have visitors come in to the region from out-of-market and they would have to limo them back and forth from Toronto because there was not the quality of hotel offerings locally.”
Built in 1893, designated as a historic landmark under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1983, and reimagined in 2017, The Walper Hotel sits at the corner of King and Queen streets – the heart of Kitchener’s downtown. This stretch of street had fallen on hard times in recent decades, and along with it The Walper had lost its regal stature.
Perimeter Development joined with Bogdan Newman Caranci Inc. (base building and restoration architect), Dubbeldam Architecture + Design and Jill Greaves Design (suites and guest floor design), and Dialogue 38 (lobby and second-floor public spaces design) to give the property a much needed facelift.
The time to invest was right. First, there’s the technology boom in this area often referred to as Silicon Valley North. Not only does the area have branch plants of some of the world’s largest tech companies (Google, Yahoo and Shopify, for example), but Waterloo Region also has the second highest startup density.
Add to that the new light-rail transit route (on which the hotel sits), set to be operational sometime this summer, and the hotel is a key part of the Kitchener rebirth and rapid growth story.
The Walper’s pledge of personal service is combined with 92 unique rooms to exude a vibe that rivals hip boutique accommodations in San Francisco or New York. It’s the little touches, such as in-room, pour-over coffee service, staff that know your name, and modern spaces. Canadian Juno award-winning musician Stephen Fearing recently stayed one night, following his sold-out solo gig around the corner at The Registry Theatre. The artist’s only regret? He couldn’t stay another night.
“It was very enjoyable,” Mr. Fearing says. “It’s a very sleek and elegant space, well-appointed and modern.”
Growing demand from local businesses, combined with the overall growth in commercial and residential construction in the surrounding area, were the biggest investment drivers for this modern redevelopment project. As more technology companies call Kitchener home, their employees want amenities nearby, as Mr. Beattie notes. Visiting executives and potential recruits are also looking for a cool place to stay.
Michael Litt, chief executive officer of online video hosting firm Vidyard, loves the new and improved Walper. The hotel is visible from the software startup’s rooftop patio nearby. Not only do his leadership team, board members and investors stay there when they visit, but the firm also holds executive strategy sessions in the historic hotel’s Oak Room.
“When we are recruiting executive leadership, they stay there,” Mr. Litt says. “We put a welcome basket in the room with some snacks, and Vidyard swag. It’s a warm and welcoming experience you wouldn’t get out of a bigger chain, which we were using prior to the renovation.”
Gaze down King Street toward the heart of Kitchener’s core from Google’s office (located in a restored building that was once a rubber factory) and the signs of this growth in what is known as Kitchener-Waterloo’s Innovation District are visible on every corner. On one side of the street, a sign proclaims a new Liquor Control Board of Ontario outlet is “coming soon;” on the opposite side, a crane is busy hauling material for 345 King West – Perimeter Development’s new 116,000 square-foot, six-storey office building, expected to be ready in the fourth quarter of 2019.
In the first quarter of 2019 alone, the City of Kitchener issued close to $1-billion in new building permits. That comprises about 15 developments, which will have 2,500 residential units, either condos or apartments. Add to that about 700,000 square feet of office space with roughly 125,000 square feet of retail at grade in the various developments.
“We are really excited about what’s happening,” says Brian Bennett, the city’s manager of business development and economic development. “The volume of growth we are experiencing downtown is unprecedented. A lot of that is predicated by the LRT as we’ve been encouraging intensification along the LRT route and in the central transit corridor.
“The evolution will continue over the next number of years,” he adds. “We just have to wait and see what the impact of the LRT will be.”
The hotel sector in the region is also poised for future growth, if supply can meet the apparent demand. “The Kitchener-Waterloo region continues to be highly sought after by hotel investors, particularly given a lack of product available for sale in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] and the overall strength and growth potential of the region. However, only a small amount of properties have come up for sale in recent years,” says Fraser Macdonald, senior analyst of hotels with Colliers International.
According to Mr. Beattie, the biggest potential game changer, which he believes is only a matter of time, would be an incoming GO rail service from the GTA.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that there is as much – or more – incoming traffic into our region for employment as there is going out to Toronto,” he concludes. “To have an incoming GO service is a huge game changer. There is lots happening behind the scenes on this front and it will be phenomenal when it happens.”