New Convention Centre site preparation open window into past

Sunday, January 23rd, 2005

Construction unearths city’s past

Ashley Ford

CREDIT: Wayne Leidenfrost, The Province Russ Anthony, president of the Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Project Ltd., is overseeing the massive, $565-million expansion project.

The stabilization and pile-driving work at Vancouver‘s new convention centre on the waterfront is yielding glimpses of the city’s past.

As workers start the year-long program of driving in densification columns, they are discovering they are only the latest human hands to have worked the 8.5-hectare water and land location.

The total site encompasses the equivalent of four city blocks or 102,600 square metres.

“We haven’t dug up a locomotive yet — for decades it was a marshalling yard and literally the end of the line for CP Rail — but we have had some surprises,” said Russ Anthony, President of the Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Project Ltd. overseeing the massive $565-million project.

“So far, we have discovered an old sea wall and various huge bits of old concrete highway and sidewalks that were dumped there over the years,” he says.

He is confident the 68,000-square-metre centre will be brought in on time and on budget.

Nevertheless, Anthony admits he will be very happy when “we get out of the water” and start actual building construction.

That process, which involves a small army of heavy machinery and at least four pile-driving units, will be finished by the end of this year.

With a tightening construction labour shortage on the horizon Anthony says that while it is a concern “we will be able to work our way through it.”

“We are one of the first major projects in the ground ahead of RAV and other Winter Olympic projects, which is a help,” he said.

“Also, it is going to be the most exciting place to work in the county. As a project, it is second to none and will be attractive for workers during construction and after.”

He says the project, which is due for completion in 2008, will provide about 6,700 person-years of employment during the construction stage with another 7,500 full-time jobs when operating.

The building will be low-rise, and its core will only be seven storeys high.

It will be unique in that it will be environmentally friendly and use B.C. lumber and glazing as structural components along with steel and concrete.

The final design of architects Downs Archambault Architects, Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership of Vancouver and LMN of Seattle, is expected to get the city’s OK by the end of the summer.

“While the overall design is done, we are still discussing with the city what enhancements it would like to see incorporated.

“We have a responsibility to maximize the public benefit,” Anthony said.

The building’s “sustainable design,” which includes a 2.4-hectare “living roof,” internal water-filtering system and minimal impact on the environment, is intended to showcase the design, planning and construction skills of British Columbians to the world.

“This building is going to be home to 10,000 media during the Olympics and going to be one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

“Such exposure could be worth millions of dollars and showcase our skills to the world,” he said.

It will be one of the most innovative meeting centres in the world.

For instance, Anthony says the planted roof, complete with native West Coast plants, not only reduces internal heating costs but will provide water for various uses, such as toilets, after it is treated on site.

“We will capture the rain run-off . . . and clarify it with a small on-site filtration plant for use in washrooms, etc. It means we will be much more self-contained and, apart from drinking water, we will be out of the supply loop,” he says.

The same innovative, environmentally friendly thinking has gone into virtually every other aspect of the operation, even down to the non-chemical carpets.

Despite a tripling of meeting space, the city is not trying to rival Las Vegas or Los Angeles or any other mega-meeting-place cities.

Rather, it intends to play to its strength of catering for 100,000-square-foot conventions.

Tourism Vancouver and the Vancouver Convention and Exhibition Centre — which will very likely operate the new centre — have already done a great job in attracting such conventions to Vancouver and the province, Anthony says.

The city already garners a larger percentage of international conventions than other competitors in North America.

“There will be large conventions from time to time, but the majority of it will be the smaller meetings that are the bread and butter. The jam of this is it will allow us to run three small conventions at the same time. If you can rotate conventions you can greatly reduce your downtime and that greatly increases values,” he said.


Location: 8.5 hectares on west side of Canada Harbour Place

Dimensions: 102,600 square metres. Sixty per cent will be built on land with the remainder over water.

Partners: The federal and provincial governments will each provide $222. 5 million, the tourism industry/private sector will provide $90 million, and $30 will come from other revenue sources.

Operator: The Vancouver Convention & Exhibition Centre. (B.C. Pavilion Corporation, a Crown corporation) is the current centre operator and that is expected to continue. The new centre will be owned by the province.

Builder: The project is being overseen by the Vancouver Convention Centre Expansion Project Ltd., a company created specifically for the project.

Construction : Construction is now under way. Thousands of stabilization piles. Completion is set for 2008.

Economic Benefits: The project is expected to generate some $1.5 billion in economic benefits to industry as well as 6,700 person-years of employment during construction. An additional 7,500 full-time jobs will be created once operating.

Existing Centre: The 32,000-square-metre convention centre will be renovated and linked to the new centre by a 90-metre connector to form an integrated centre.

Materials: 4,000 truckloads of concrete, 25 kilometres of steel pipe piles and 1.5 hectares of glass

Delegates: Doubles from 2,500 to 5,000, with number of delegate days increasing to 630,000 annually from 390,000.

© The Vancouver Province 2005

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