Saturday, March 08, 2008

Central Waterfront Transit Hub Meeting


As you may already know, Friends of Soccer is represented on the City of Vancouver's working group on the Whitecaps Stadium and the Central Transportation Hub Study. This group is made up of representatives of major property holders, the Port, Translink, Stadium / Transit Hub opponents, City Planners, and the Whitecaps. City Staff holds occassional meetings with this group to provide updates on progress made on these projects and to solicit feedback. On Thursday, we met for only the second time in a year to hear about the City's plans for the Transit hub portion of the project. As there has been no settlement yet between the Port and the Whitecaps on the stadium site, the stadium wasn't discussed. However, I believe it's worthwhile getting involved in the Transit Hub discussions to ensure that the best interests of stadium access are protected, and to keep the project on the front burner. Here's what was presented:

The proposed Central Transit Hub at Waterfront Station is a massive project that's intended to improve the way many different modes of transit integrate with one another and to commercially develop that part of the waterfront. Beyond the transit station, if the project were completed as planned, there would be four new office or hotel towers (maximum 26 stories) between Cordova Street and the seabus terminal, underground parking, and street level retail stores. There are no plans for residential condos. Everything put together would create over 2.1 million square feet of commercial space (including parking) on the waterfront. The City wants it to become a dynamic space full of cafes, bars and restaurants that would attract people during non-office hours.

The City has told me that they'll send me a digital copy of the detailed diagrams they presented later this week. In the meantime, the diagram above posted by Translink is generally accurate:

So...what does this have to do with the stadium? I think quite a bit.

The plan shows that the City and Translink have no intention of revisiting the Seabus terminal area as a potential stadium site. While some have speculated that this may be on the table, what I can tell you is that nobody's making any plans for it. They're making plans for office towers and a hotel.

Second, the City is planning for there to be future development on the Port lands that could include a formal public space such as a stadium.

While I believe we should be actively involved and supportive of the transit hub and the commercial development, a couple of things stood out in my mind in relation to the stadium and downtown in general.

First, the risk involved with such a massive expansion of retail space. The City's past attempts to create "dynamic" commercial environments have seen mixed success at best. Yaletown saw empty storefronts for almost ten years before it came around. Retailers struggle to make a go of it now in Gastown, the Central Public Library and Coal Harbour - all City designed projects. The transit hub won't exponentially increase the number of people passing through the district, and people in the office towers will have the ability to take an elevator directly to the skytrain without ever having to go to street level. Without a popular draw to bring people to this part of downtown (such as the stadium), new merchants will struggle, and established businesses in the area could suffer. I believe the success of this project can be guaranteed by building the stadium. Otherwise, it's a crapshoot.

Another concern I have is with "Street B" in the diagram. At the moment, the City envisions this as being a bus loop with no cars. Without proper planning, this could easily deteriorate into the sterile, delapitated state that Granville Mall was when it had only buses. It's not really related to the stadium, but I'd hate to see Vancouver repeat the mistakes of the past.

There are other concerns regarding the development and the stadium, but I'd rather wait until I can show you the detailed diagrams to go into them.

It's important to remember that City Hall is just presenting ideas for the area, and that there's no formal proposal yet before City Council. The City plans to hold Open Houses on the transit hub in mid-April, and I strongly encourage everyone to use them to press home the need for our stadium. With an election coming up, it's more important than ever to let City Hall know that we're not going away until it's built, and that we'll hold them accountable if it isn't. Also, keep those letters coming to Lawrence Cannon and other Federal MP's.

To write Lawrence Cannon, here is his contact info below:
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6
Telephone: (613) 992-5516
Fax: (613) 992-6802

I'll let you know more as soon as I get the info.

Thanks for your support. Keep the faith!

Bill Currie
Friends of Soccer