City counsil looks over proposals for woodward’s

Friday, October 31st, 2003

Frances Bula

Some of Vancouver’s biggest property developers have put in their names to redevelop the former Woodward’s department store, with plans that range from razing the building and putting up a cluster of towers to creating an arts, culture and crafts market or building a West Coast longhouse at the centre of a multi-faceted urban village.

Their first-draft plans also include native healing centres, information-technology spaces, arts complexes, social services, and dozens of other ideas, along with various mixes of social housing, rental apartments, condos, live/work units and lofts.

“We’re constantly looking at projects, especially with a scale to them where you can create a neighbourhood,” said Matt Meehan, the vice-president of planning for the city’s biggest housing developer, Concord Pacific, which put in a proposal. “There aren’t many sites of that size left in the downtown. We’re moving into that area anyway with our Costco building. And there seems to be political will to do something and that always helps.”

Other major local developers listed in a report going to Vancouver city council Tuesday include:

– Concert Properties, a pension-funded development company;

– The Holborn Group, whose principal, Simon Lim, used to co-own the building with Kassem Aghtai;

Kingswood, the Segal family company;

– Millennium Properties, the Malik family development company;

Westbank Projects, headed by developer Ian Gillespie.

Some developers say the only way to develop the site is by knocking down all or most of the building, while others maintain they will preserve large chunks of it. Two developers suggest developing a “superblock” project by incorporating other land on the block. Many specifically talk about the importance of restoring the block so it becomes the new economic, cultural and social centre for a revived Downtown Eastside.

Besides the developer proposals, the city had also asked retailers and agencies to put in their own proposals. Among those received were:

– Army & Navy department store, the Cohen-family owned store that remained an anchor in the Downtown Eastside long after many other businesses fled;

Bekins Moving and Storage;

Simon Fraser University‘s School for the Contemporary Arts;

Vancouver Community Colleges‘ Contemporary Design Centre and School of Music;

– A proposal for a bowling alley in the basement;

– The Original Costume Museum;

Vancouver Native Health Society;

– 411 Seniors Centre;

– Society for the Promotion of Design and Innovation in British Columbia,

In a somewhat unusual process, developers will be asked to talk about their proposals with the public at two meetings in late November. Then, in January, the city’s Woodward’s steering committee will choose a short list of developers, as well as indicating which other institutions or agencies it would like to see housed in the building.

After that, the short-listed developers will come up with more detailed proposals that show design work and that incorporate spaces for the designated other uses.

Councillor Jim Green, the committee’s co-chairman, said that he was impressed with some of the presentations, which he called “very high-quality, very well-thought-out, very creative.”

Now, he said, the committee has to sort through all of them and figure out what will work best for the city.

“We’re not closed to any possibility at the moment.”

It’s still up in the air whether the city will simply sell, with conditions, to a developer or maintain control of the building and have a developer/manager build the project.

© Copyright  2003 Vancouver Sun

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