At a cost of $1.7 billion, the redevelopment of the Northeast False Creek area with new social housing, public spaces and parks, and community amenities is shaping up to be the City of Vancouver’s most expensive municipal-level public project since its involvement with the construction of the $1-billion Olympic Village.
And now, one Vancouver City Councillor is sounding the alarm over the rising costs of implementing the Northeast False Creek Plan and the associated demolition of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts.
“I find that my biggest challenge with this whole project is the cost,” George Affleck, a Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Vancouver City Councillor, told Daily Hive. “The costs have already gone up significantly… I worry that it will continue to skyrocket, and that is not how we should be spending taxpayer’s money.”
In 2013, when the project was first proposed, the City stated it would cost $55 million to tear down both viaducts and $75 million for the new street network and parks and soil remediation work on the former industrial lands, bringing the total cost to $130 million.
That figure rose to $200 million in 2015, before reaching $360 million in the latest estimate released last month. Beyond the removal of the viaducts, an additional $1.4 billion is needed for social housing, parks, amenities, and other infrastructure.
Overall, the $1.7-billion project currently has the following municipal government costs (this does not include the private development):
He says City staff have told him the costs will be covered through community amenity contributions (CACs), development cost levees, and possibly even funding from the provincial and federal governments, although he says senior governments normally fund new infrastructure – not the removal of taxpayer-supported infrastructure.
In an email to Daily Hive, staff with the municipal government said the project will be “funded through development-related revenues, sale of lease of City-owned lands, senior government contributions, and other strategic partnerships.”
A source who wished anonymity told Daily Hive as much as $500 million will be needed from non-developer sources (CACs), specifically senior governments. Otherwise, this could be a cost borne by municipal taxpayers.
While Affleck likes the concept of restaurants meeting the water and creating an active and interesting entertainment district, he questions whether the redevelopment could have been designed in a way that incorporates the existing viaduct infrastructure, which would lower the project’s costs significantly.
City staff claim the existing condition of the viaducts are a seismic risk, but at the same time it would cost just $90 million to retrofit and seismically upgrade the viaducts to extend their lifespan by another 50 years. A replacement of the viaducts would also cost less than the plans chosen, with new viaducts providing a 100-year lifespan pegged at $120 million.
“Could we have not designed a community with the viaducts in place and repaired?” he said, adding that some developments around Rogers Arena are creatively built into the spaces between other buildings, the viaducts, and the ground-level street network.
“We were already kind of doing it if you look at how the building were being constructed following the path of the viaducts and basically creating a street. It’s something that could have been explored.”
He adds that the current wide design of the new, six-lane Pacific Boulevard – which will replace Expo Boulevard, the current design of Pacific Boulevard, and both viaducts – will cut the new park in half.
And the planned new Dunsmuir bike bridge and elevated SkyTrain guideway, which dips to the ground level on the site, acts as another visual barrier.
“You still have massive concrete structures going through the middle of the park,” he continued.
Affleck expects the Northeast False Creek Plan will be approved by City Council during a vote on the project on February 13. After this occurs, plans will begin to move quickly – real estate deals will be negotiated, and developers in the area will proceed with their respective rezoning applications.
The contracts to demolish the viaducts will likely go out soon, so that the project can begin quickly in order for it to not become an issue ahead of the October civic election.
“At that point, it will be too far down the road to reverse by the new City Council,” said Affleck.
Demolition work on the viaducts and the construction of the new replacement road infrastructure is expected to begin in 2019.
The major redevelopments, largely by Concord Pacific and Canadian Metropolitan Properties, and the new parks and public spaces will emerge between 2021 and 2025.