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Relocated archdiocese headquarters leaves Yaletown without shelter

Downtown Vancouver is losing another head office. This time, though, it's not a lumber giant or a digital start-up.

It's the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver, which will be moving its headquarters from what has become a prime development spot near BC Place stadium to a more pastoral location in the city.

The archdiocese, which had to get Vatican approval before the sale could be completed, will be building new headquarters for $25-million on the site of the former St. Vincent's Hospital near Oak and 33rd. That is owned by the archdiocese's Catholic Charities organization.

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"The new location is more central geographically to the rest of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, which has more than 120 churches and schools extending out to Hope," said spokesman Paul Schratz.

The Catholic Church, contrary to what many might believe, is booming, with almost 500,000 members in the Lower Mainland.

Mr. Schratz said the archdiocese decided to sell because the building was old and it was time for the church to leverage its properties.

Mr. Schratz wouldn't say who the buyer was, nor reveal the sale price for the building at 150 Robson St. The main parcel of the land on the site was assessed at $13.5-million in 2013. Mr. Schratz did say the proceeds from the sale will cover most of the $25-million construction cost for the new 65,000-square-foot pastoral centre.

Land records indicate that Amacon, a prominent condo builder in the city, held the mortgage as of January last year.

One of the key issues at the site is the 100-bed emergency shelter that has operated for decades on the third floor of the red-brick building that was constructed in the early 20th century.

"We're very keen on still having a shelter nearby," said Mr. Schratz. "The last I heard, we were still in negotiations between Catholic Charities and the city."

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Mr. Schratz said the existing shelter will continue to operate until a new one is built, even though the office functions will be moving to the new building in the summer of 2014.

"A new emergency shelter was a condition of the sale," he said. "We were determined to maintain and improve our downtown presence and required that the purchaser/developer agree to commit to making an equal or better contribution to the neighbourhood, offering the same amount of space."

For now, city officials are staying tight-lipped about what exactly is being negotiated to replace the shelter.

"Discussions are very preliminary with no application to date so it would be inappropriate for city staff to comment at this time," said city communications officer Sandy Swanton in an e-mail.

Councillor Kerry Jang, whose unofficial file on council is homelessness and mental health, said he knew nothing about negotiations, as that is handled by staff.

He said the shelter has always been well-used and he assumes staff will work to accommodate whatever the ongoing needs are in the area.

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The Catholic Charities hostel is the only permanent shelter in the burgeoning Yaletown district and has always served a group of people who don't want to go to the Downtown Eastside. Some residents mounted intensive opposition earlier this year to having a temporary winter shelter set up in the neighbourhood.

The Robson Street site is not the only piece of property the church is trying to figure out what to do with. It also owns a large piece of property in the Downtown Eastside, where the Sisters of Atonement lived and provided services to the community for 85 years.

Mr. Schratz said the archdiocese is working out what should happen with that site in the long-term.

For now, the church is renovating to expand a drop-in meal centre in the former convent.

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About the Author
Urban affairs contributor

Frances Bula has written about urban issues and city politics in B.C.’s Vancouver region, covering everything from Downtown Eastside drug addiction to billion-dollar development projects, since 1994. More


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