Development starts at woodward’s site

Tuesday, July 26th, 2005

Retail, housing, campus planned

Ashley Ford

CREDIT: Gerry Kahrmann, The Province Geotechnical tests begin at the Woodward’s site yesterday in preparation for the $300-million-plus development.

It is the beginning of the beginning.

Preparatory work on the former Woodward’s department store site in the heart of the Downtown Eastside has begun, effectively closing the book on one of the longest-running property development debates in the city’s history.

Efforts to redevelop the store, closed by bankruptcy in 1993, have proven futile until now.

Geotechnical and environmental work began yesterday on the massive $300-million-plus retail/university/housing complex and will take months to complete.

Westbank Projects head Ian Gillespie said yesterday he hopes to start real construction early next year. Westbank and the Peterson Group are the main developers.

While final designs remain to be approved by the city, no one attending the groundbreaking ceremony has any doubt about the project’s future success.

Mayor hopeful Coun. Jim Green, involved with the property for more than a decade, declared it a “huge victory for East Hastings” and the beginning of a new life for the downtrodden area.

“The development of this historic site is for real this time,” said Mayor Larry Campbell. “Woodward’s is symbolic for the downtown and the city’s oldest neighbourhood. This marks the celebration of another life for Woodward’s.”

Although the project has not been named, it is difficult to see it being called anything other than Woodward’s. The “beacon W” rooftop sign will stay.

Gillespie said the project brings together a number of players, including Simon Fraser University, which will take up 118,000 square feet for its school of contemporary arts.

The first phase is due for completion in late 2008 or early 2009. There will be 440 units of market housing with another 200 non-market units, which the provincial government will fund.

The city will also take space in the complex, which will include a major retail presence — Save On Foods and London Drugs have been mentioned.

Bob Rennie of Rennie Marketing sees the project as a vital catalyst to the regeneration of the “seedy area, including the western end of Chinatown.

“I am putting my money where my mouth is and moving to Chinatown and this project is the start of a whole new regeneration for this area.”

Rennie has bought the Wing Sang building, the oldest in Chinatown, at 51 East Pender.


It’s been a long, winding road for the redevelopment of the Woodward’s site:

– In 1993, bankruptcy closed the flagship department store.

– In 1995, Farma Holdings buys the store for $5 million and the city buys the Woodward’s parkade for $11 million

– In 1997, various plans to redevelop the site for social and non-social housing collapse.

– In 2001, the NDP government buys the site for $22 million

– The city buys it from the province for $5.5 million.

– Last September, city council chooses Westbank/Peterson to redevelop the site.

© The Vancouver Province 2005

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