In Our View: Slocum House Possibilities

Creative and wishful thinking in order as city seeks a tenant for historic building

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It should be viewed as an opportunity. As a time for excitement, for possibilities, for growth, for creativity. … In other words, the city better not blow it.The Slocum House, a roughly 140-year-old structure now located at the southwest corner of Esther Short Park, is in need of a tenant. The house, containing 6,100 square feet spread over its two floors and basement, is viewed as a possible home for a creative technology firm, professional offices or a gift shop.

Those are some of the possibilities mentioned recently in an article by Gordon Oliver, The Columbian's Business editor. But with one of Vancouver's iconic buildings available in a prime location at the heart of the city, it's time to test the boundaries of logic and conventional wisdom.

For example, why not use The Slocum House for a historic re-creation site, with actors portraying the lives of Vancouverites from the 1800s? Well, maybe not.

Or how about a microbrewery, as a nod to the Northwest's thriving beer culture and downtown Vancouver's historical connection to the suds? Er, guess not.

Or how about a genuine haunted house, considering that a recent episode of The Travel Channel television program "The Dead Files" concluded that the house is inhabited by a 160-year-old ghost? Probably not, considering that ghosts don't punch time clocks -- a fact that makes haunted houses dubious as tourist attractions.

OK, maybe none of those ideas would work. But the city must work to come up with something that is creative, serves the public and draws at least $2,500 a month in rent.

That is the magic number, considering that Vancouver forced out the Slocum House Theater Company, which had inhabited the building since 1966. Most recently, the theater was paying rent of $635 a month, but the city determined that it could not continue to maintain the aging building at that price. It upped the rent to $2,500.

That is understandable. At a time when governments are facing scrutiny for all manner of expenditures, the subsidization of a community theater can be viewed as a frivolity.

But in driving out the theater company, to the chagrin of many residents, city officials set the market price at $2,500 a month, and therefore put themselves in a bind. They took an issue involving a high-profile building and a firmly established community entity and set the bottom line for expected revenue. People will pay attention to how this plays out and what the city can make of the situation.

All of which calls for some creative thinking. Because of the building's historical designation and the fact that it doesn't have an open floor plan, there are stringent limits on the possible uses.

But the hope is that the city can find a tenant that taps into the vibrancy of adjacent Esther Short Park, the Vancouver Farmers Market and the surrounding area. The hope is that a new tenant provides something that can add to the culture of downtown Vancouver.

It would be unfortunate if the building became the home to, say, law offices or a business that has little contact with the outside public. Not that we have anything against lawyers, but the location is prime for a business that thrives on connecting with the public.

That probably is wishful thinking. On the other hand, wishful thinking has been the genesis of some of mankind's finest ideas.