Gastown redevelopment now “common passion”

Friday, May 2nd, 2003

Malcolm Parry

Nicole Garton

ROBERT FUNG, Bob Carbonneau and Gair Williamson are reviving and protecting the crumbling Gastown district, driven by what the latter calls “a common passion for developing the city and for old buildings.”

Fung, who was a manager with Concord Pacific and Narland Properties, joined former Larco Investments acquisitions-finance specialist Carbonneau and two silent partners in 2001 to form the Salient Group. The firm has headquarters in a Maple Tree Square building owner Fung says was the first to rise after the great fire of 1886. Architect Williamson “works in close proximity and occasional collaboration,” said Fung, who met the self-described “heritage freak” over a drink in the Alexander-at-Main Alibi Room, a moviebiz hangout Williamson designed.

Fung is encouraged by the 2002 Vancouver Agreement, a five year collaboration by Ottawa, Victoria and city hall to revitalize the Downtown Eastside and Chinatown “For the first time in 30 years,” he said, “governments are giving some attention to areas that desperately need it.”

“It’s the only chunk of heritage we have in the city, and it’s rotting,” Carbonneau said.

Not so the Taylor Building (310 Water Street), which Salient acquired last year for conversion to 22 rental lofts in the 740- to 1,150-square-foot range, with space for four retail stores and a restaurant at street level.

Carbonneau and Fung are down to the short strokes with owners of adjacent Gastown properties they propose to develop for high-density residential occupancy.

“Our over-all goal is to bring in the businesses and the people to make this a healthier, stronger neighbourhood,” Fung said. “But there’s a limited number who want to live down here.”

That’s hardly the case at 10th Avenue off Discovery, where Salient has a four-storey, 28-unit complex under way, with two similar-sized projects ready to go nearby.

Still, Gastown property prices are “a steal,” developer Ron Loudown said when he paid $650,000 for Cordova-at-Carrall’s old Boulder hotel recently.

“In fact,” Fung said, “they’re really too high for what you get.” Citing the technical and other complexities of legally renovating century-old structures, he added: “It takes a great deal of creativity to make viable projects in this area.”

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MIKE MILLER, who recently ended 10 years as chair of Ryerson University‘s department of architectural science, might have been Gastown’s first redeveloper. That was exactly what he and two other University of B.C. architecture students proposed in their 1965 graduating project.

But Arthur Erickson sent Miller to work on the Montreal Expo 67 project, and Larry Killam picked up the Gastown ball.

Miller worked for several years in Texas, where development drawings get approved in less than the weeks — or months– common here. Delivering his first set one mid-afternoon, Miller was aghast when the bureaucrat said: “You’re a bit too late to get ‘em back today, son. Come by tomorrow morning.”

When the checker said, “We have no right to doubt your professional ability,” Miller asked if folk didn’t sometimes take advantage.

The laconic reply: “Well, y’see, if anybody did that, we’d invite them in here for a discussion of their future in our community.”

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LAWRENCE HENNESSY and William Percy dined at Lorenzo Wednesday with Rogers Radio CEO Gary Miles, Rogers Broadcasting president Rael Merson and executive VP Sandy Sanderson. That would be regarding the former pair — aka CFOX-FM morning men Larry and Willy — ending their 15-year gig with the Corus Radio-owned station to begin entertaining JACK-FM’s older listeners in the same time slot.

The twosome deal is for $6 million over 10 years — long for the fast-changing radio business (JACK was KISS-FM until Dec. 27, 2002). Meanwhile, not-so-fine print in their old contract will keep the pair’s new microphones unjacked until Corus and Rogers brass settle the matter — probably not until fall.

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MICHAEL AUDAIN, the Polygon Group boss, came up with a different sales fillip for the firm’s 185-unit Gallery and 182-unit Miro residential towers on either side of Richards Street at Nelson. It’s contemporary Canadian art, which Audain and wife Yoshiko collect and donate in large quantities.

Opposite and kitty-corner to the Contemporary Art Gallery, the towers feature small units — average 550 square feet — and over-height, huge-windowed lobbies, which will be packed with artworks.

Yvonne Drinovz, who is sales manager for both projects, said the art is a clincher for the younger buyers and local-resident investors who snapped up the Gallery’s $185,000-average units in four months and have put the like-priced Miro at 70 per cent.

“They love the concept,” said Drinovz, standing beneath a large, blue-hued Graham Gillmore painting titled I Love You In Theory in Miro’s sales office. Seems they also go bonkers for the screaming red shirts Miro’s all-female staff wear in sharp contrast with Polygon’s traditional blue suits and white ties.

Let’s bet we’ll see more art and bright attire when a third tower is announced for Nelson at Homer.

© Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun

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  1. For more information on lofts check out our Vancouver Lofts website.

  2. For more information on Gastown’s lofts check out our Gastown Lofts website.