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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Stars rise on Toronto's Sunset Strip

By REBECCA CALDWELL
Globe and Mail
Saturday, Aug. 30, 2003

Forget red-carpet gala screenings or beautiful people sipping tiny bottles of Piper-Heidsieck. This year, nothing says Toronto International Film Festival quite like Nicole Kidman careening down a waterslide. At least, that's what Toronto's Delta Chelsea hotel, home of Canada's largest indoor waterslide, hopes as it gets ready for its first time playing TIFF's host hotel for the most prestigious arts event in town.

But while the Delta Chelsea already boasts about its 130 metres of twisty wet fun it calls the Corkscrew, how it managed to snag bragging rights as the film festival's headquarters for the duration is as perplexing as most Icelandic cinema. Despite the fact that it is Canada's largest hotel (with nearly 1,600 rooms, more than enough to house the entourage of even the most egotistical star), has a four-star rating and some gorgeous rooms thanks to a recent renovation, the Delta Chelsea has yet to achieve the swank-list status of the Four Seasons or the Park Hyatt, the festival's past nerve centres.

Part of the Delta's unglamorous association no doubt comes from its location. At 33 Gerrard St., it is close enough to downtown theatres and art galleries to earn it the nickname of Toronto's Entertainment Hotel.

But the Delta Chelsea is also a minute away from a strip of Yonge Street that rivals Sunset Blvd for seedy cheesiness: A sex shop, tattoo parlour and not one but two strip clubs: Zanzibar and Remington's, a male revue which also features a She-Male show in the basement, are just down the street.

But the Delta Chelsea's location is actually one of the reasons the Toronto Film Festival decided to head a few blocks south this year.

"It makes a ton of sense for us now as we start to shift our centre of gravity further south in the city," says TIFF's managing director Michèle Maheux, referring to the new TIFF Festival Centre that will be built at King and John streets by 2006.

"Our office is at 2 Carlton St. -- Yonge and College -- our box office is at College Park, and the industry centre is at Sutton Place [at Bay and Wellesley streets] so we've created a bit of a Bermuda Triangle. And for us, frankly, we are deeply thrilled because we are within walking distance of all of our colleagues."

The main reason for the switch, however, was space. With the number of films and attendees increasing annually, hotels such as the Four Seasons found it difficult to accommodate TIFF's need for press offices and conferences rooms.

"We're very hard on a hotel. This is a very big deal for a hotel to step to the plate and take us on," said Maheux. "We've been very fortunate in the past with our partnerships, and sometimes we outstay our welcome. And we did that in Yorkville to a huge degree."

The Delta Chelsea, meanwhile, rolled out the red carpet - they've signed away their entire third floor to the Festival. But while the majority of star-studded press conferences will be held there, it seems few A-list celebrities have actually booked a room at the Delta.

"We may have some of the stars but I think they normally stay in their favourite hotels," says hotel manager Robert Housez. "Stars are, I guess like everyone, very opinionated, but they can also usually afford to stay where they want to stay. So some are going to stay with us because it's convenient, others are going to say no, I don't care about convenience, I want to be in the hotel I'm used to being in."

Still, the Delta's guestbook is not unused to dealing with celebrity guests. Pamela Anderson stayed there last November, and Cam Jackson expensed 16 nights' accommodation, one minor line on the tab that got the former provincial minister of tourism in trouble. It should be no problem, then, for the Delta to cope with Hollywood stars sobbing for a grande soy chai latte. And while they may not have the same posh environs as Yorkville, they have alternatives for every contingency.

If the hotel is farther away from snooty boites such as Prego della Piazza, it is a stone's throw away from La Maison du Croissant, a coffee shop whose entire contents could be purchased for the price of one of Prego's bottles of wine. The concierge won't have to worry about trekking to Holt's should he be called on to fix a last-minute clothing emergency - Winner's is just up the street.

And for that before-dinner drink, Delta's patrons can head to Monarchs sports pub. It may not be quite as chic as the too-sigh-for stylish bar Avenue at the Four Seasons or the stolid Rooftop Bar at the Park Hyatt, but it is bright and cozy and the hotel's commitment to film is made evident by the old-fashioned popcorn maker with help-yourself paper bags at its entrance.

For late-night partying, there is, of course, that waterslide. Delta's management is ready for the chance to show it can be just as slippery as a Hollywood movie mogul, and they're hoping Nicole Kidman has brought her swimming trunks.

"That would create quite a stir, wouldn't it?" says Housez.



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