Iconic entertainment, office, and retail complex proposed for Granville and Robson (RENDERINGS)

Jan 8 2021, 12:09 am

The redevelopment of the former Canada Post building, currently under construction, into a mix of retail and Amazon’s principal Vancouver office hub is proving to be a major catalyst for the eastward expansion of downtown Vancouver’s Central Business District (CBD).

And a new massive mixed-use proposal for nearly the entire city block south of Robson Street along Granville Street could do the same for the southward expansion of the CBD’s gravity.

In the process, through the introduction of critical mass from generated pedestrian traffic, it would revive and intensify the Granville Entertainment District (GED) — becoming the most effective and powerful catalyst yet for the return of the storied GED’s vibrancy while also preserving and enhancing critical heritage assets created during the animated district’s heyday.

Daily Hive Urbanized is first to report that local developer Bonnis Properties and the local office of the architectural firm Perkins & Will are pushing forward their proposal to redevelop 800 Granville Street — the entire area between the former Payless Shoes building at the north end of the city block to the Orpheum Theatre’s Granville Street entrance building near the south end.

This proposal is currently in the pre-application stage; proponents are aiming to formalize their application to the City of Vancouver this year.

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Existing condition of the 800 block of Granville Street in downtown Vancouver, showing the redevelopment footprint and the historical structures that will be preserved. Click on the image for an enlarged version. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

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Historic components that will be retained within the redevelopment of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

There is no question that this is one of the most consequential locations in Vancouver; there are five buildings of historic significance built between 1910 and 1929 on this site covering a Granville Street frontage of 425 ft (129.5 metres), almost the entirety of the city block. This includes the 1929-built, mid-block building with the Commodore Ballroom and the bowling lanes.

All of this will be preserved and restored from the verticality of a new contemporary sloping office mass that gives the city block a new pinnacle height of up to 260 ft (79.2 metres) to the north at Robson Street. The northern end reaches 17 storeys, while the southern end is nine storeys.

It will be a transition from the existing Granville Street fabric to the CBD, with the sloping downward towards Smithe Street — where the building height is halved — offering access to sunlight and views.

Current condition:

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Existing condition of 800 Granville Street, looking southeast from the intersection of Robson Street and Granville Street. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

Proposed condition:

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Artistic rendering of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. Note: trolley bus lines will be retained. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

The juxtaposition of the old sawtooth profile and the new architecture creates a type of contrast that in effect serves to accentuate the old through the simplicity of the new, and establishes a bold statement on the city’s evolution.

The facades of four heritage buildings will be rehabilitated and integrated into the new development, but the Commodore building at 868 Granville Street and its assets — the ballroom and bowling lanes — will be preserved in their entirety by a structural engineering feat that creates a mid-block bridge over this building.

It is important to emphasize that the entire city block, except for the city-owned Orpheum entrance building, does not have heritage protection and could be razed.

The Bonnis family, the owner of these properties, has noted that the only way to secure the future of these historic buildings and cultural assets is to incentivize their retention. There is enormous pressure to demolish the buildings and replace them with new buildings, but the existing density allowance of a floor area that is 3.5 times the size of the lot does not allow for a financially viable strategy to preserve these buildings.

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Artistic rendering of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

To achieve this project, the proponents are striving for an application under the framework of the city’s Heritage Revitalization Agreement, which allows for increased density and height in exchange for heritage preservation.

The proposal would create a total floor area of about 650,000 sq ft of new, expanded, or re-purposed spaces for a floor space ratio (FSR) density that is 11.5 times the size of the lot. This is up from the combined floor area of 131,400 sq ft within the existing buildings.

The redevelopment creates 377,100 sq ft of office space within the upper levels, 86,300 sq ft of retail and restaurant space within the lower levels (double the existing area), and 78,165 sq ft of entertainment uses (an 85% increase).

Here is a breakdown of the project features and benefits:

Commodore Ballroom could be lost without this redevelopment

Through sensitive renovations, the capacity of the Commodore Ballroom will increase by 30%, allowing the operator of the venue, currently leased to Live Nation, to book a wider range of larger acts.

Additionally, improved back-of-house access for exiting, lift, loading, and other features will allow 30% increased performance frequency — permitting as many as 90 additional shows and events per year. Attendance would increase by 40% or about 75,000 more attendees annually.

This redevelopment will preserve and expand the Commodore Ballroom operations and ensure its long term viability. However, if the redevelopment concept is rejected, Bonnis Properties has indicated it will be extremely difficult for the business to remain financially viable. If the project is forced to downsize, there is no guarantee for the future of the Commodore Ballroom.

Live Nation requires the back-of-house upgrades — many of which shall be shared with the Orpheum Theatre — to increase the number of performances necessary to ensure the long term viability of this cultural institution.

Artistic rendering of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

$45-million new performance venue for the City of Vancouver

The Orpheum Theatre would see a $45-million expansion with a new 14,700-sq-ft performance venue with 320 seats on the third level of the redevelopment, immediately adjacent to the theatre’s existing Granville Street entrance building.

This major community amenity contribution to the City of Vancouver could allow the Orpheum to become a financially self-sustaining asset that no longer requires an operating subsidy from the municipal government. The additional venue, along with the aforementioned shared back-of-house upgrades with the Commodore Ballroom, provides the Orpheum with the capability to book more events, increasing revenue by up to 35% through a 23% increase in attendance or about 73,000 more spectators annually.

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Artistic rendering of the new performance venue for the Orpheum Theatre and the outdoor cultural space at 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

It could also be used by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra as a new rehearsal venue, freeing up time for revenue-generating spectator events in the main theatre. If realized, this would be the Orpheum’s third performance space, adding to the 2011-built Orpheum Annex within the Capitol Residences on Seymour Street near the corner with Robson Street.

Unlike the Orpheum Annex, this performance space at its more visible location on Granville Street will have built-in synergies with both the Orpheum and Commodore, including shared access and a large pre-function space with an outdoor area looking over the GED’s streetscape. The shared flexible, accessible space for both the Orpheum and the Commodore Ballroom is about 17,000 sq ft.

The financial feasibility of constructing the new city-owned performance venue is entirely supported by the proposed level of density of the office and retail components of the redevelopment.

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Artistic rendering of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

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Diagram of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

New retail and restaurants, and the preservation of Commodore Lanes

While the third level’s southern end is occupied by the performance venue, the northern half of this level will be used as restaurant space with major patio opportunities. There is enough space for multiple significantly-sized restaurants.

On the second and fourth levels north of the Commodore Ballroom, there will be retail space for larger format retailers, such as stores the size of Best Buy and Winners across the street within 798 Granville Street, which is also owned by Bonnis Properties, or a flagship for large global retailers.

The restaurant and large format retail levels are accessed by escalators and elevators from a grand mid-block atrium entrance, within the footprint of the existing buildings (constructed in 2006 and 2008, respectively) that currently house Zumiez and Urban Outfitters. These relatively newer buildings will be demolished for the striking mid-block atrium entrance.

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Artistic rendering of the mid-block vertical access reaching the upper retail and restaurant levels of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

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Artistic rendering of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

At street level, the same typology of small- to medium-sized retail and restaurant units that exist today will be enhanced.

Within the underground level of the Commodore building, the historic Commodore Lanes — believed to be Canada’s oldest five-pin bowling venue — will be preserved as part of the overall complete retainment and enhancement of this heritage structure. Underground parking will be built within the footprint north of the Commodore building.

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Artistic rendering of the outdoor cultural space at the Orpheum’s new performance venue at 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

Significant office space for much-needed foot traffic

The office space in the upper levels creates a “tower on its side,” not completely dissimilar to the core guiding principles of the Law Courts that spread office and functional spaces horizontally instead of vertically.

This concept is deemed to be a sensitive addition to the street that also serves the dual purpose of ensuring the financial viability of the project and its heritage restoration and preservation components, as well as its goal of revitalizing the entertainment district.

The 377,100 sq ft of office levels will provide enough employment space for nearly 2,000 workers — and despite the impacts of COVID-19, there is still a strong demand for office space downtown, as evident by the persistently low office vacancy rate. The sloping rooftop creates a series of outdoor amenity spaces for office tenants.

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Artistic rendering of the office outdoor amenity spaces at 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

The office lobby entrance is located on Granville Street, next to the atrium with the escalators and elevators that reach the upper retail and restaurant levels.

Not including the employment generated by retail and restaurant businesses, the office workers could provide the city block with about 11,000 additional pedestrian movements per day. These office workers will spend about $23 million near the office building, including almost $5 million on dining. It will effectively support the diversified businesses of the GED and other nearby areas of downtown, especially during the daytime.

Bringing more eyes to the street throughout the day and into the evening from the increased foot traffic will also improve public safety within the entertainment district.

A special lighting feature wraps upper retail levels to help animate the entertainment district, and acknowledge the street’s bright neon past.

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Artistic rendering of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

The overall redevelopment will not only lower carbon footprint for its tenants, but it is, of course, a transit-oriented redevelopment with SkyTrain’s Vancouver City Centre and Granville stations and bus routes just footsteps away.

Proponents are aiming to achieve a project timeline that allows for construction to align with the years-long pandemic economic recovery period, providing an economic stimulus to the local economy.

Over the years-long process of project planning and land assembly, Bonnis Properties attempted to acquire the 1907-built, four-storey building at 695 Smithe Street, located at the southernmost end of the city block, with the intention of creating a larger consolidated redevelopment, but its negotiations with the property owner were unsuccessful, leaving an orphan parcel on the city block.

Just across the street, Cineplex is currently in the process of constructing its Rec Room entertainment centre within the old Empire Theatres complex. It is expected to open in late 2021 or early 2022.

Artistic rendering of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

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Concept of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)

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Diagram of 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins & Will/Bonnis Properties)


Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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