A new neighbourhood is emerging amid the squat, old industrial buildings that lie to the east of Vancouver’s gentrified and trendy Main Street area.
Framed between railway tracks to the north, wide thoroughfares Clark Drive to the east and Great Northern Way to the south, and Main Street’s growing wall of condo towers, the area nicknamed “The Flats” is set to become an arts-and-tech oriented enclave of students, restaurants, galleries, breweries, coffee shops and limited residential.
Already, several new businesses have set up shop, including Mark James’ Red Truck Beer on E. 1st Avenue, which will begin brewing in about a month’s time, says the architect in charge of the project, Tim Ankenman. The brewery is aiming for a timely summer launch, and is on target now that the German-imported equipment is in place, he says. The 1,850-square-metre brewery will include a 50-seat diner, just one of the new restaurants that will be part of the fabric of the area, once fully realized. Momento Coffee House will soon move in, too, which will make up for the area’s serious lack of coffee shops.
“This emerging unique neighbourhood will become an important part of our city,” says Mr. Ankenman. “There’s such a diversity happening between the east and west side of Main. On the west side, you have Burger King being redeveloped, and [condo project] Meccanica happening. All that is on the fringes of the east side of Main, where we still have car repair shops and Ralph’s Radio.”
The heart of the flats is Great Northern Way Campus. By 2017, it will be the new home for Emily Carr University of Art + Design, alongside the Centre for Digital Media. Finning International, manufacturer of Caterpillar machinery, donated 18 acres of land to Emily Carr, B.C. Institute of Technology, Simon Fraser University and the University of B.C., back in 2001. The recipients have formed the GNW Trust to oversee development of the acreage, but only Emily Carr will have an actual school there. The land was already zoned for some housing, which made the Trust’s job easier.
“I don’t want to be accused of exaggerating, but I think it’s unique and tremendously exciting and a good opportunity for us, and our partners, and hopefully for the city to show how a previously industrial-only zone can be revitalized into something more interesting,” says Matthew Carter, president of the Trust. “The exciting thing is where it is strategically located, as well as the four university institutions that own it collaboratively, that are doing interesting and innovative things, and then there’s the big art school being one of the four partners anchoring it — that introduces a whole other level of uniqueness.”
The Trust sold off four acres of the Finning property to the Onni Group, which has plans to build the neighbourhood’s first residential condo project — a six-storey, two-building development that will finish construction in two years. It is, appropriately, called Canvas, and prices will start at around $250,000 for about 500 square feet of space. The buildings will offer 209 artist live/work studios, some with rooftop patios, and a common courtyard. The design was kept intentionally mid-rise.
“There is no talk of a tower there,” says Onni vice-president of marketing, Nic Jensen. “There are some height requirements which we have to abide by — that’s why the two buildings at six stories.”
On an adjacent lot, there is another plan to build more artist/live work units, as well as student rental housing and a hotel that amounts to 400,000 sq. ft. of new development.
The city is at the data collection stage of a community plan for the entire False Creek Flats, which covers a much bigger area, all the way to Strathcona. In this eastern core of False Creek Flats, they are looking at more office space for high-tech industries and green jobs, as well as parks and pedestrian bridges over the railway tracks.
“We are waiting to finalize the downtown eastside plan, and once that’s finalized we will allocate our staff to get work on it right away,” says director of planning, Brian Jackson.
In the meantime, major change is already underway. There are several other breweries already operating nearby, including Main Street Brewery, Brassneck, 33 Acres and R & B Brewing. Alberta’s Big Rock Brewery has plans to build a $3.5 million brewery in Mount Pleasant.