The downtown Canada Post building – a modernist-era structure that Heritage Vancouver put at the top of its endangered-sites list for 2012 – is on the block.
According to a confidential information memorandum issued by the broker for Canada Post in late September, and obtained by The Globe and Mail, the 1.2-hectare property is being marketed as one with potential for a "high-density, mixed-use residential development."
That prospect raises fears among heritage advocates, who are struggling to preserve the city's small stock of historic buildings in the face of constant redevelopment pressure.
It also marks an apparent finale to the Vancouver Art Gallery's exploration of the prominent downtown site as a possible location for a new gallery.
The 54-page memo from CBRE – the broker handling the sale of the mail-processing plant – notes that high-profile luxury retailers are looking for ways to get into Vancouver's tightly packed downtown.
"This site is one of the few remaining development properties that can accommodate large format retailers seeking locations in Vancouver's downtown peninsula," it says, observing that current developer preference for multiuse developments near transit is "a trend that bodes well for the Subject Property."
According to information being traded among the city's tightly connected network of brokers, developers and marketers, there are already roughly 20 companies and pension funds interested in the site, including the budget retailer Target.
It's unclear how the federal government has dealt with or intends to deal with native land claims on the site, which had been a factor in development discussions in years past.
Canada Post did not respond to a media request, made through CBRE, to talk about the sale of the building, which currently handles regional mail distribution. Canada Post is building a new facility at the airport.
City officials are not commenting publicly on the issue for the moment, but one did say privately that they are watching what's going on and "are concerned about the process and the outcome" on such a key downtown site.
The City of Vancouver has issued an outline of its regulations and policy on the site, in response to what it said were numerous requests from developers.
That policy note spells out that the city has the discretion to allow buildings as high as 450 feet in the downtown. But the Canada Post site won't be allowed to go higher than 225 feet for most of the block, except for one slice at Georgia and Homer that could go as high as 285 feet, because of limits imposed by the city's policy on protecting views of the North Shore mountains.
As well, the policy note states that developers could get incentives for doing heritage preservation on the site.
However, heritage advocates say there is nothing ironclad to protect the building.
"As a federally owned building, the lower levels of government cannot put any kind of protection on [the building] that is binding," said Heritage Vancouver president Don Luxton.
The facility was described as a "Taj Mahal with elevators" when it opened in 1958.
The building, which still has a functioning post office in front, is notable for its grand colonnade facing Georgia Street, terracotta tiles, terrazzo floor in the lobby, intricate aluminum work.