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Every other community centre in Vancouver is jammed this week, as is the norm.

The fitness machines are whirring with a steady stream of users. The activity rooms are booked steadily and the gyms are filled with kids playing basketball or rock climbing.

But not at the $36-million Creekside Community Recreation Centre, which Vancouver insisted on adding to its grand new Olympic Village.

It's the only centre ever built in Vancouver that didn't fill up the minute it opened. That's because it sits in the middle of what is, for the moment, the city's biggest ghost town. Between excruciatingly slow sales of the 750 condo units, along with slow processes for filling the rental and social-housing units, the 1,100-unit village feels more like a still life than a city neighbourhood.

So the beautiful fitness room that overlooks False Creek is empty this midweek afternoon, on the eighth day after the centre's soft opening July 19. The grand foyer with its stained glass windows is silent, except when kids from the Science World day camp briefly trail through.

And in the gleaming new gym, three basketball players have the whole place to themselves.

They're delighted.

"It's hard to find an empty gym, so this is perfect," said Diego Kapelan, a Vancouver resident who's home for the summer from his studies at a Louisiana university.

But for the park board, it's not so perfect, as it puzzles over how to attract enough people to this 45,000-square-foot centre to pay the bills.

"It's going to be a challenge," said recreation supervisor Charlie Cuzzatto, who has been pulled away from his duties at the nearby False Creek Community Centre to plan a future for Creekside. "Usually, when we run a community centre, we look at whether we're meeting the demands of the local community. But we won't know that here for a while because we don't have a local community."

Mr. Cuzzatto said his skeleton staff has been asking people who drop by to suggest programming. A small school of paper fish on the wall in the lobby contains about a dozen ideas so far, many asking for yoga, others wanting toddler activities.

One suggestion: "Pay what you can karma classes - the poor and the working poor can't often afford the discounted community access cards. Please make this a real community centre, not just an affluent members' centre."

But the centre will be struggling to find ways to pay the bills as it is, without running pay-what-you-can activities.

"We are going to have to sustain it for the next couple of years until more people move in and hopefully offset the operating costs," Mr. Cuzzatto said.

In spite of the fact that programs were cut at the city's other community centres in this year's tough budget, their association presidents aren't expressing any resentment about the cost to run Creekview.

Park board chair Aaron Jasper said he's sure the centre will eventually be well used by people from nearby Mount Pleasant, False Creek and Citygate (although the first two have their own centres, one of them also just opened). He also said it's better to have a community centre open a little bit ahead of the neighbourhood than trying to squeeze one in later.

In the meantime, one group is thrilled about the new centre: the residents of the Citygate towers at the east end of False Creek. They've had an isolated existence until now, cut off from the city and its centres to the west by huge swaths of undeveloped land.

"It's the closest community centre that we'll likely have," said Citygate resident Patsy McMillan. "Everybody's been excited about it opening up."

That's about 2,000 people. Only 30,000 to 40,000 to go to match the populations that other centres serve.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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