Planned lounge renovations at Hotel Macdonald on hold until March 2020

The hotel's general manager says they have heard the feedback on the initial drawings and are going to maintain "that heritage and history.”

'It’s about preserving the integrity and the historic character of that building'

The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald in downtown Edmonton on the edge of the river valley. A $22-million upgrade is planned for the historic hotel. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

A controversial makeover at The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald's Confederation Lounge has been put on hold for another year. 

The renovations at the lounge won't begin until March 2020 as drawings are still being finalized for the room's design. 

Word that renovations were being planned came in the spring when the hotel posted artist renderings of the potential makeover on social media.

The post fired up many Edmontonians, who were less than thrilled with the efforts to add a modern edge while still preserving some of the lounge's retro feel.

Hotel Macdonald general manager Garrett Turta said management will meet this week to look over a second round of drawings. 

"It has taken on a little bit more of a historic look with the furniture and stuff," Turta said. "So I think everyone will be in appreciation of the changes that are coming forward."

Garrett Turta, general manager of the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, said preserving the hotel's historic character is a priority. (Submitted by Garrett Turta)

Turta said after the initial furor died down, comments in favour of the modernization outweighed those against it. 

Key items — like the Fathers of Confederation painting above the fireplace, some of the crown mouldings and wood panelling — will all be kept. 

Turta said the Fairmont brand puts a priority on the historic value of its slate of hotels.

"We take that job very seriously," Turta said. "One of the things we do is really make sure that we're maintaining that heritage and history in everything that we do."

The lounge renovation is part of a $22-million project that will include upgrades to the guest rooms, meeting areas and the Harvest Room restaurant.

Turta said that work has also been delayed from this fall to early in the new year. 

"Everything, everything, even the grounds actually are going to be renovated and just touched up," Turta said. "We're going to make it a more usable and functional space that people can utilize and enjoy a lot more. 

The concept for the renovated Confederation Lounge is from the same designer who worked on renovations to the hotel's 7th and 8th floors in 2016. (Fairmont Hotel Macdonald)

Prairie chateau

Dan Rose, chair of the Edmonton Historical Board, isn't surprised people had strong feelings about the lounge's potential makeover. 

"It's certainly a building that's always captured the hearts and imaginations of the people of Edmonton because of its unique style and its unique architectural presence as that sort of prairie chateau," Rose said. "It really is in a lot of ways the grandest, most elegant building of that style and that era that we have in the city."

The heavy furnishings in the Confederation Lounge have been described as difficult to move and aren't functional for larger groups. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Rose said he wasn't a fan of the original images that the hotel released and is glad to hear they are still finessing the design.

"I would be optimistic that, now that they've had some feedback and a chance to reset, that maybe they can find a new direction that really celebrates the heritage of that space." 

He points to the Fairmont Palliser Hotel in Calgary as an example of a hotel that has successfully renovated while staying true to its historical roots. 

"At the end of the day, it's about preserving the integrity and the historic character of that building," Rose said. "And making sure that we celebrate and recognize the thing that makes that building unique is precisely its historic character."

A black-and-white photo of the Hotel Macdonald from the city archives. (City of Edmonton Archives)