The owners of Vancouver's two historic post-office buildings downtown want the city's permission to redevelop to create more office space and, in one case, help retain the building's heritage.
The federal government, owner of the city's 1910 main post office in the Sinclair Centre, wants to find a place to consolidate staff downtown, said Vancouver's assistant director of planning, Kevin McNaney. "They approached us to explore this site," said Mr. McNaney, who has a report going to council next week on the proposals. That post office is part of a cluster of four heritage buildings at Sinclair Centre, a full block bordered by Hastings, Granville, Howe and Cordova streets.
A few blocks away is the building that was the main post office from 1958 until last year. Its owner, the B.C. pension fund, is exploring whether the city is open to adding density to the modernist international-style building, Mr. McNaney said.
Mr. McNaney's report said B.C. Investment Management Corporation has approached the planning department, saying it is willing to consider allowing a tower on top of the existing building that would have a mix of condos and apartments, as well as commercial and hotel space. Heritage Vancouver put that Georgia Street main post office on its top 10 endangered sites list in 2012 and 2013.
Neither owner has done any design work yet while awaiting word on whether council will consider allowing extra density, so there is no suggestion of how they could add space onto distinctive buildings with complicated layouts.
The Georgia Street post office was built to accommodate trucks and heavy equipment, so it has a steel frame that could take a tower on top of it, Mr. McNaney said.
The architects who created Sinclair Centre in the 1980s designed an atrium and central courtyard to link the former post office, exchange house and two other two historic buildings. The space in the centre is not a piece of history that is protected from demolition.
Mr. McNaney said both post offices are significant and cannot be altered without careful thought.
"They are both very important heritage buildings, and that's the key consideration when we're thinking about this," he said.
However, a redevelopment with extra density would give the city some things it wants: more office space downtown close to transit, an incentive for the owners to do seismic upgrading and an incentive for B.C.'s pension fund to preserve as much heritage as possible in the Georgia Street post office.
The proposals for the two buildings are the by-products of changes in Vancouver's downtown over the past few years.
After almost a decade of stagnation, office development has taken off. Employers want new, high-grade spaces that are close to transit because that is what their employees tell them they want.
But few properties are available to redevelop, as more than a dozen office towers are already in the works.
As well, the eastern end of downtown, near the Georgia Street post office, has become more attractive as office and cultural development has spread in that direction.
When the building was marketed three years ago, brokers noted that a lot of luxury retailers want to be downtown.
Officials from the B.C. investment-management corporation said when it bought the post office 2013 that it planned to look at creating a mix of uses on the site.