Sunday April 20, 2014

Windows open heritage conundrum

Plaza owners want to upgrade with cheaper vinyl instead of heritage wood
Murray Mitchell

Plaza Hotel general manager Shatha Al-Reihani shows one of the windows that the hotel wants to replace.

The Plaza Hotel is looking at replacing its old wood and metal windows with vinyl, but the City's heritage commission has concerns about the move.

Hotel manager Shatha Al-Reihani said Thursday the price difference is what's driving the window preference.

She's had estimates for wood windows of $450,000 — which could go higher depending on unexpected issues that can crop up in old buildings.

Vinyl, on the other hand, priced out at $140,000.

The hotel has undergone a major makeover in the past couple of years, with the 67 guest rooms refurbished with traditional, elegant furnishings, paint and upgrades.

Two air conditioning units were added and individual electric heaters installed in every guest room.

The total bill has been around $2 million, she said Thursday.

Al-Reihani said she's taking a vinyl sample window that should have the same shape and feel as the current windows — but with two panes instead of one — so she can show the heritage commission what it would look like.

Andrew Yarmie, chairman of the commission said the single pane windows let in more noise and, in winter, more cold air.

Wood is the preferred material for the windows because they are an integral part of the building's original appearance, he said.

"Originally, they were talking about putting in double pane wooden windows. Now they're saying it's too expensive and they're thinking of putting in vinyl windows," he said.

"The wooden windows were the original windows that were there. To preserve the heritage integrity of the building, you have to replace it with wooden windows if possible."

While the commission can give a recommendation to the City, ultimately the window decision falls to the head of development and engineering services.

The commission is holding off on giving its opinion until it sees the vinyl sample.

Not all of the windows in the hotel are original, with some of those facing the back alley and side parking lot already replaced with metal, said Al-Reihani.

In 2000, the hotel was given a 10-year reprieve on its municipal taxes as an incentive for restoration work to be done. At that time, the hotel included a strip bar and maintenance had been minimal.

New owners meant a new life for the building, but at that time it required more than $2 million in investment.

The City agreed to the tax waiver, which in the decade it was in effect amounted to a tax break of more than $1 million.

Municipal taxes on the hotel resumed in 2012, at a cost of about $50,000.

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