Cambridge gets a Royal Flush. A winning hand or money down the toilet?

By  | September 26, 2010 | 8 Comments | Filed under: History, Local History, Politics

(Sorry about the headline, readers, I couldn’t resist it.

This is a column that ran in the Times shortly after the city purchased the Royal Hotel. I’ll post my thoughts on the current situation as a reply, and I encourage you to do the same.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

The city may well take a financial bath on the Royal Hotel, and I know where there is a Jacuzzi big enough for council. At the same time there are some things you can’t put a price tag on.

The Royal wasn’t always the rundown behemoth it is now. Its crumbling and decrepit façade was once the pride of the region, a landmark reflecting the architecture of the reign of Napoleon III in France.

The Royal began as The Royal Excelsior in 1850, and changed to New Royal in 1881, and finally The Royal in 1888.

During the 1950’s and 60’s the Royal was a mainstay for blue collar workers. Mill workers flocked there for lunch and to cash their pays. The weekends were country music, draught beer and dancing.
In the late 80’s the decline of industry near downtown was the beginning of the end for the Royal.

The latest owners, John and Connie Areias, bought the Royal in 1997 and immediately began renovations to return some of its old grandeur. Most people thought it was a joke when they saw “Honeymoon Suite” advertised on the hotel’s cargo van, but in reality it was Arias’ dream. Beneath the tower hid a magnificent room replete with the aforementioned Jacuzzi, matching purple toilet and bidet, and a plush double bed under a large chandelier. Mirrors lined the walls, stairwell and ceiling. Areias spent $29,000 for the mirrors alone.
Sadly, the dreams reflected in the honeymoon suite came crashing into the reality of the streets below. Prostitution and crack cocaine infested the hotel. The police had to do nightly walks through the building. “Crime at the Royal” became a news staple. Safety inspectors called it “an imminent danger to the public and residents.” Police heard rumours someone planned to torch the building.
Ward 4 councilor Ben Tucci did a 2 a.m. walkthrough with the police. “It was death waiting to happen,” Tucci tells me, “and not just the residents. “Police, firefighters…anyone who entered the buildingwas in danger.”
Tucci sounded the alarm and City council dipped into its industrial land reserves (instead of using general tax revenues) to buy the Royal for $650,000. Residents were found other shelter. The building has sat vacant since, at a cost of about $5000 per month for security.
“That building was costing the region a million dollars a year to police,” Dennis Copeland, owner of Giant Tiger, is quoted as saying. “Was it a proactive thing for the city to buy it and leave it empty? The answer is still yes. As a business person, that was the best thing I ever saw the city do for the core.”
Copeland tells me of his own tour of the building, of seeing the floor of one room strewn with used syringes. “What if one of my kids (employees) pricked themselves taking the garbage out?”
‘Nuff said. No price can be put on human life. In my opinion, council made the right move. The only question that remains is “wreck or renovate?” It would be nice to see the exterior saved somehow, even if it means taking a further loss. The city has already taken a bath, what are a few more drops?
Note to Council: I know where you can get a purple Jacuzzi for civic square real cheap for future baths.

8 Responses to Cambridge gets a Royal Flush. A winning hand or money down the toilet?

  1. scot September 26, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Citizen Readers, what do you think? Did they make the right decision?

  2. ben tucci September 26, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Hi Scot! We made the right decision and I would do it again in a heart beat. Did we lose money on the transaction? The answer is yes if you compare only the purchase price and the selling price. If however, you add back the improvement to economic development and safety post closure and, the economic benefit to come once the re-development of the Royal is done and space all leased up, it was a good investment. In addition, if you add in the price of a person’s life and I’m certain we saved at least one if not more by taking the decisive action we did, we no doubt come out far ahead. I would have done the same for Hespeler or Preston given the same circumstances. If the recession hadn’t hit last year the Royal re-development would have been completed by now and people would have a better appreciation of what we did. I’d ask that you give it some time to see the redevelopment finished and then ask again. Best regards, BEN

  3. davethehobo September 26, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    I have said it before and i will say it again. It is not always the best thing to do, trying to save a Heritage building just because”it is the right thing to do”. I would have preferred that the whole corner there would have been razed and a nice green space would have been put in it’s place.

  4. Mike Scott September 26, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Sorry Dave, but you can go hug a tree. not everything can be a green space. One problem i see is too many people in this city are against development and progress. They want us to go back to a time when this city had nothing, and our mayors and Council did nothing but play status Quo. We need to look to the future and build a vibrant moving city. We need an Entertainment district and downtown galt is that area, sorry hespeler and Preston but the facts are the facts. Drayton is coming and we need to build the galt core up, clean it, fix it and make it an area that will bring people in. Simply put, we can not stand still let’s move forward.

  5. Colin Carmichael September 26, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I have loved thinking about the potential of the Royal since I first moved to Cambridge – so I was glad to see it saved.

    I take davethehobo’s point, though, about green space – the downtown could certainly use some! I suggest razing the eyesore building on the NW corner of Main & Ainslie (formerly Shoppers Drug Mart) and put a little parkette in there with trees and benches, etc. It would certainly make the corner feel less crowded and imposing and would encourage pedestrian traffic to neighbouring businesses.

  6. John Caffrey September 26, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    What about making that great parking lot into something else!

  7. @bretthagey September 27, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Something tells me the old Shoppers would make a good nightclub spot, eventually.

  8. ben tucci September 30, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    That corner is going to be re-developed. I can’t say more at this time. Stay tuned. Another major step towards bringing the downtown back to life. I hope to be on Council to ensure we continue to move forward toward this goal. Best wishes, BEN

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