Three forces – the growing aura of hipsterism, a new city plan, and the success of condo projects around the Olympic village – are converging to turn Vancouver’s lower Main Street into the city’s latest development hotspot.
And that threatens to push out one of the street’s main arts centres, even though the recently developed Mount Pleasant plan said the area should be strengthened as an arts and culture hub.
VIVO Media Arts Centre, a mostly publicly funded organization that helps local filmmakers, musicians and community activists produce video and music, has to leave its home of 20 years by May, 2014, after an unknown buyer purchased the building recently.
But rents in Mount Pleasant have steadily risen as Main has become home to more restaurants, hip bike and clothing stores and breweries.
“Now there’s a scramble because everybody’s being pushed out,” VIVO general manager Emma Hendrix said. “City staff in cultural services have been working hard to do what they can, but the community plan didn’t say anything about how to preserve cultural space” even though it talked in general about creating an arts hub.
VIVO, founded in 1973 and known for years as Video In, is not the only site on Main facing imminent development, as new and old owners look to take advantage of the zoning changes along the street.
The area used to be all light industrial, and has been a mix of businesses, from auto repair to upholstery to secondhand furniture, for years.
But the new community plan will allow a mix of commercial and residential in the half block between Main Street and the alley behind it in that stretch. The land west of the alley will remain light industrial, as part of the city’s goal of preserving it for job space.
The plan was approved in November, 2010, and as condo buildings continue to go up and sell out around the Olympic village a couple blocks away, several parcels in the area between Second and Seventh on Main seem poised for change.
“It really started with the Olympic village development, and then, when the community plan was approved, there was a bit of a frenzy,” Mr. Hendrix said.
Besides the VIVO site, there have been constant rumours the past couple of months that the City Centre Motor Hotel has been sold to someone wanting to build a condo project. City staff say there has also been an inquiry about that site, and three others on the stretch. As well, Aquilini Development owns the block between Second and Third.
And a project at Main and Seventh, by developer Arno Matis, has already been approved.
City Centre owner Polo Yang said it is not true that he has sold the site, but he does acknowledge that he gets constant inquiries from realtors and that the potential for rezoning the land as made him consider what he could do with it.
“Maybe a joint venture with a developer. Because now the hotel business, there are too many hotels in the downtown. We cannot make it,” said Mr. Yang, who has owned the motel since 1989.
As a result of all the activity, city planner Matt Shillito is going to city council this fall with a more detailed framework for the area.
That framework will have more specifics about heights – likely six stories for most of the street, with bookends of nine stories in the south and 11 in the north.
It is also going to include a plan for how to use money from developer fees in the area. Ideally, some would go to creating cultural facilities – the kind that an organization like VIVO could use.
“The plan gives us some encouragement to retain arts spaces,” Mr. Shillito said. The question is what happens to VIVO between the time it has to move and the years until new arts spaces are created.