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New high-rise coming to Village gateway

Planned mixed-use tower gets mixed reviews

INTEGRATING INTO THE VILLAGE: 'I think we're going to make every attempt to blend in,' says David Buddle of Prima Properties' plan to build a high-rise at the entrance to the gay village. Credit: Nathaniel Christopher photo

The site of the old Shell station at Burrard and Davie will soon be converted into a mixed-use high-rise development, according to David Buddle, project development manager with Prima Properties who owns the site.

“We’re looking at a high-rise on the corner closest to Burrard and Davie, and then a blending in with low-rise commercial properties on the Davie streetscape, which will have retail spaces, restaurant banks and so forth,” says Buddle, who is also a board member of the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA).

Construction may have to wait until the gas station formerly located on the site is cleaned up, but Buddle hopes to begin construction within the next year.

“We’ve been monitoring this gas station for several years and we’ll be actively involved with Shell in the clean-up,” he says.

Prima has not yet been granted a development permit for its plans, according to Michael Wilson, City of Vancouver planning assistant with central area planning.

“There could be an inquiry on the site,” Wilson notes. “However, inquires are kept confidential until formal application proceedings.”

Buddle says Prima’s development permit was put on hold by the recent strike.

“We have some upcoming meetings with the architect and the city and look forward to applying for a development permit in the near future,” he says.

Buddle says any development will be integrated with existing streetscapes. “I think we’re going to make every attempt to blend in,” he says. “You have to remember it’s on Davie and Burrard, and Burrard certainly has a number of high-rises dotting the streetscape.”

This is good news to Alan Herbert, a former city councillor and planner who says a consistent streetscape is good for Vancouver’s gay village.

“The return to having a continual retail front that takes you to Burrard St is absolutely mandatory. Even if they were building a two or five-storey building, retaining the continuity of retail front is absolutely key to the Village,” Herbert says.

James Steck, promotions manager at nearby Celebrities, is excited about Prima’s planned development.

He says he’s not worried about possible noise complaints from new residents unhappy with living across from a gay nightclub, since there are already some residential towers on the south side of Davie and Burrard.

“Right next door to the TD Tower there’s a condo development,” he points out. “And right beside the ESSO station another tower went up a few years ago. Having another one won’t affect us at all except to bring us new customers. It will bring in more money for businesses in the area and more eye candy for the gays and lesbians,” he predicts.

“Nothing affects the club,” he continues. “People who buy the development in the condo know that a club is right next door.”

Steck views the development as a boon to many aspects of the community, including The Centre on Bute St. “I heard a rumour that the developer is donating a floor to the GLBT [community centre] so I think it’s a great thing,” he says.

When asked if The Centre will be granted space in the new development, Buddle declined to comment.

The Centre’s executive director Michael Harding would neither confirm or deny the rumour. “We’re in discussion with the city right now about a couple of opportunities,” he says. “But I can’t speak of it. We’re looking at a potential location in the West End.”

Trans activist Jamie Lee Hamilton worries that a large condo development could jeopardize the character of the Village.

“That corner does not need another huge high-rise,” she says. “I’d love to see The Centre in that location; I think it could be redesigned to accommodate our community centre that’s accessible. But I don’t want this trade-off.

“In the long term I don’t think it’s going to be that great for the community and it’ll just lead to other rental properties converting to massive condo development and that’s already happening,” she says. “Gay people in the West End are predominantly renters and if you’re going to plonk down these big condo rises, gay people aren’t going to be able to live there.

“It’s erasure of the gay community. So what good will your centre do you then-when all the gay people are pushed out of the West End due to lack of affordability?”

Herbert believes the new development means new money for the gay community.

“The new development is going to contribute money to the West End BIA. It’s a self-tax they impose on themselves; this is true for the BIAs all around the city,” he says. “By definition, when something new and significant comes in it starts to play a large role, and if that means new dollars going to the coffers of the BIA, then that means more money to tell the story. Having been a part of it for the last 30 years, I think it’d be tragic to lose that history.”

Last year, Herbert says he spoke with the WEBIA about creating a public project that would honour the history of Davie St.

“I think it would attract more and more tourists, particularly from the gay market and from the United States,” Herbert says. “I was talking about creating a walk of heroes on Davie, which would run from Bute to Burrard, in which we take note of the history that comes out of Davie.”

Hamilton maintains the development could play a part in eroding that history.

“It could lead to the gentrification of the neighbourhood and village feel,” she says. “The Village has so much history, from housing the gay community to having hookers roam about.

“I think there has to be a master plan for the area too. The public needs to be consulted,” she says.

WEBIA executive director Lyn Hellyar declined to comment on the Prima development.

“I do know a lot about the development and what I do know I am not at liberty to say,” she says.