This evening, Vancouver City Council will consider its largest office development proposal yet during the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal by Westbank calls for the redevelopment of the Creative Energy steam plant and an industrial building at the southwest corner of the intersection of Beatty Street and West Georgia Street — right outside BC Place Stadium’s gates A and B — into a new 208-ft-tall, 17-storey office tower with a 95-ft-tall, six-storey entertainment pavilion.
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This is Westbank’s fourth major collaboration with architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group, after Vancouver House, King Toronto, and TELUS Sky Calgary. HCMA Architecture & Design is the project architect of record in the application.
Last year, Allied Properties Real Investment Trust announced it will provide the developer with up to $185 million in pre-development and initial construction financing for this project.
Site of the Creative Energy redevelopment at 720 Beatty Street, Vancouver. (Google Maps)
The S-shaped office tower with rounded corners and folds will contain 583,243 sq. ft. of office space in levels two and above — with floor plates as large as 35,000 sq. ft. suitable for tech companies — and 12,410 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space on the ground level.
The facade will be made of a complex system of reflective glass and metal panels with a “fluid geometry” that can “look completely opaque or completely transparent.” The entirety of the tower rooftop is a large outdoor amenity for workers, complete with landscaping and a running track along the perimeter.
Four underground levels accessible from both Beatty Street and Expo Boulevard below will offer 175 vehicle parking stalls — well below the permitted maximum of 508 vehicle parking stalls — and 374 bike parking spaces, as well as an upgrade and expansion of the steam plant within the underground levels.
Westbank’s Ian Gillespie acquired the 1960s-era steam plant through his Creative Energy entity in 2013. The steam plant’s natural gas boilers provides efficient steam heating and hot water to over 200 buildings in the downtown peninsula through 14 kms of underground pipes. The steam plant will use a floor area of about 37,189 sq. ft.
The standalone, circular-shaped entertainment pavilion facing West Georgia Street will provide a further 30,236 sq. ft. of commercial space for restaurants, a sports bar, a brewery, a virtual reality sports experience, and karaoke.
Major public realm improvements are planned to improve pedestrian flow during large events, including a large plaza facing the stadium and along the new two-way, four-lane West Georgia Street ramp to Pacific Boulevard, and wider sidewalks.
A five-metre width breezeway opening through the middle of the tower’s ground level provides improved ingress and egress for pedestrians. The commercial space found in both the tower and entertainment pavilion will help activate these new major public spaces.
Public realm improvements are also envisioned for the building’s lower level underneath the BC Place Stadium perimeter plaza, providing a new frontage for Expo Boulevard.
“The complex and visually interesting form and massing of the entertainment pavilion on subarea B is viewed by staff as a positive addition to the public realm,” reads a city staff report.
“Its sighting adjacent to the larger open public spaces allows it to be viewed in the round and is appropriate to its pavilion form and uses.”
A maximum conditional height of 450 ft is permitted for the site, however, the overriding Cambie Street Bridge view cone restricts the height to no more than 202 ft.
The proposal’s total floor area is 663,078 sq. ft., giving it a floor space ratio of about nine times the size of the lot.
“If approved, the project will not only contribute to increasing job space and to advancing the City’s economic development objectives but also help achieving the regional entertainment district envisioned under the Northeast False Creek Plan,” states city staff in their recommendation to city council.
For the municipal government, the rezoning will also generate $12.95 million in development cost levies, $4.74 million in commercial community amenity benefits, and over $1 million in public art.
Since 2016, nearly five million sq. ft. of major office space across 24 sites in downtown has been proposed, entered the construction stage, or reached completion. This new office space in downtown, creating about 21,000 job spaces, accounts for nearly two-thirds of the regional total over the same period.
Despite the effects of COVID-19, office demand in downtown Vancouver remains exceptionally strong, with the vacancy rate increasing to only 4.6% — well within the healthy range.
Public feedback received by the municipal government so far on the proposal has been highly positive.
“As a home owner on Beatty I support this improvement to the area and the building design. This will improve the general atmosphere of the area and add to the look of future developments on the old Expo lands nearby,” wrote Kale Pauls.
Helene Perndl, another downtown resident, adds: “The current building on this block is a big eye sore and I think this will be a huge improvement. I’m happy to see that big investments in office buildings like this are still going ahead even during the pandemic.”