The hope is that sooner, rather than later, the coronavirus pandemic will be under control and the economy once again will thrive. When that day arrives, the rejuvenation of downtown Vancouver will be evident.
The latest chapter in a remarkable story of renovation was started last week as workers began digging out a foundation on Block 10. Situated kitty-corner from the northeast edge of Esther Short Park, the site is a remnant of old Vancouver and an ode to the city that has gradually blossomed over the past two decades.
As Vancouvercenter and Heritage Place have grown up around it — not to mention a renovated park and other multipurpose buildings — Block 10 has sat forlorn and desolate for decades. Previously part of a five-block Lucky Lager Brewery complex, it was purchased by the city in the early 1990s and was sold to developer Holland Partner Group, which is based in Vancouver, last year for $3.3 million.
The plan is a six-story, mixed-use building with a two-story parking garage/retail base. On top of that will be two four-story towers — one for office space and one for residential units. The residential tower will hold 110 units, with about 20 percent of those designated as having more affordable rents.
Combined with two decades of development in the immediate vicinity of Block 10, along with a burgeoning Waterfront Vancouver project and ambitious plans for Terminal 1 along the Columbia River, it is part of an urban transformation.
As The Columbian wrote editorially in January: “It’s hard to overstate the difference between the Vancouver where they started and the city center of today. In the 1990s, downtown lurked in the shadows of an abandoned brewery. Main Street was lined with dilapidated storefronts that had emptied in the 1970s and ’80s, when the mall opened and the cardrooms were run out of town. There were few reasons to venture downtown after government offices closed at 5 p.m. on weekdays. Almost no one lived there.”
All of that has changed, and much credit goes to former mayor Royce Pollard, who led efforts to rejuvenate Esther Short Park in the 1990s. While many factors play a role in development, the remaking of the park into an inviting hub of activity and recreation was significant in triggering construction in the area. Now the downtown core is alive with residents, restaurants and entertainment venues that beckon to both locals and visitors.
The hope is that the pandemic, economic shutdown and resulting recession will be only temporary roadblocks to that vibrancy. The good news is that with development and with a spate of restaurants, Vancouver has branded itself as a destination that will remain attractive when the economy fully reopens.
As Pete Saunders wrote for Forbes in 2018: “Cities have become much more conscious of branding as an effective strategy for altering their trajectory. Instead of jumping onto an existing narrative about their city, more are learning to shape it and promote eventual growth and revitalization.”
Vancouver has done that organically, through transformational development and through connecting the public with the city’s most attractive amenity — the waterfront. Ideally, the new development at Block 10 can tap into that zeitgeist when it is finished in 2022.
In the meantime, the thought that something is happening at a long-neglected block in the heart of the city reflects Vancouver’s ongoing modernization.