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The six-storey, two-building Canvas is the first condo project in the neighbourhood nicknamed ‘The Flats.’
The six-storey, two-building Canvas is the first condo project in the neighbourhood nicknamed ‘The Flats.’

‘The Flats’ rises from a post-industrial cradle Add to ...

This summer, Mountain Equipment Co-Op opens its new 112,000 sq. ft. headquarters on the former Albion Fisheries property, just west of the campus. The headquarters will draw around 300 employees a day.

Several galleries that once clustered around South Granville have moved into the area, including Equinox and Monte Clark galleries, which have leased large, former Finning factory shop spaces from the Trust. The galleries regularly draw people to the site for openings. And unlike the tony storefronts of Granville Street, the new look of the galleries is far more industrial, drawing comparisons to Yaletown, or, further afield, Manhattan’s Meat Packing District. Equinox Gallery owner Andy Sylvester says he and Mr. Carter christened the neighbourhood.

“It’s catchy and easy to remember, and it defines the space we are in down here — and it stuck, which is the most important part,” says Mr. Sylvester.

From a condo marketer’s perspective, the new neighbourhood has built-in appeal, particularly the 1,800 new students and faculty that will soon be located there.

“Obviously, the Main Street buzz has really been growing, and this is a continuation of it,” says Mr. Jensen. “We’re branding it ‘Southeast False Creek Flats’ — six minutes to Science World and the seawall, and also to south Main, where there are great restaurants and groceries and coffee shops. And the other intriguing thing is all the art galleries that have moved there.”

But there’s another major factor at play in the future direction of the new neighbourhood, and that is the possibility of a future SkyTrain station. For Onni, part of the appeal was the city’s proposal for a station at Emily Carr’s new campus, says Mr. Jensen.

So far, the Onni projects are the exception to the rule for the flats. The city has a long-standing policy of preserving the area for jobs. Student rental housing has been allowed in the two-year-old Centre for Digital Media Building, which has 76 units on the top floor. For students who work late at night, more housing means more on-street activity, as opposed to the deserted streets of industrial land after hours. But besides the Onni condos, no other market housing is up for consideration.

“The city was supportive of allowing student rental housing and they have indicated they will support more,” says Mr. Carter. “And they have also indicated they are not comfortable allowing market-housing condos, which are not in keeping with their vision for how the flats should develop.”

However, if all goes according to the city’s plan for a SkyTrain station at Great Northern Way and Thornton, the area could also get a major boost from the Millennium Line. If approved, the rapid transit extension from nearby VCC-Clark station would continue along the Northern edge of the site and enter a tunnel, then turn south towards a Broadway and Main Street station, and on to UBC. The green light on a new transit station could drastically change things, says Mr. Jackson.

“We would have to take a serious re-look at the planning for that area should SkyTrain be announced, because that would be a significant new node of development that we would take a look at.”

The very things that make a neighbourhood interesting are often the things that wipe it out. Artists’ enclaves have routinely been gentrified to the point of unaffordability, pushing out artists to make way for condo towers and chain stores. For that reason, Mr. Sylvester says he and many others in the arts community are against a SkyTrain station moving into the flats. It also doesn’t help him that a proposed rapid transit extension would go right through his gallery and the Monte Clark Gallery, taking them out of the picture altogether. It would also mean the loss of historic property.

“The thing that put me in this building was the 14,000 sq. ft. space with 25-foot ceilings. These buildings don’t exist in Vancouver,” says Mr. Sylvester. “We have the luxury of space.”

As well, he says, Vancouver needs an intellectual core. The universities are located on the fringes, with UBC at the tip of Point Grey and SFU on a mountain. The flats neighbourhood is an opportunity to create that core.

“I don’t want to be critical of the developer community, but I hope it becomes an area where culture has a voice — I hope it’s not simply a place where we build more condominiums without an infrastructure that has cultural interest and vitality to it.”

Editor's note: The original print and online version of this story did not make it clear that the Flats is in Vancouver, B.C. This version has been corrected.

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