New $5.4-million permanent design for Robson Plaza to be built this year

Feb 14 2019, 2:45 pm

The 800 block of Robson Street, the former two-lane roadway above Robson Square, is set to receive a complete makeover.

On Wednesday afternoon, Vancouver city council approved a $5.38-million budget to revamp the existing temporary plaza with a permanent design that acknowledges the high profile nature of the space and its usage for events and festivals.

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A total of $4.25 million will come from the Development Cost Levy set aside for transportation improvements, and a further $1.13 million will arrive from reallocated TransLink funding for active transportation and spot improvements.

Negotiations are also underway to seek up to $2.8 million in senior government funding to reduce the municipal government’s direct contribution. As well, the provincial government will manage the project on behalf of the city, given that the province owns Robson Square.

800 Robson

Footprint of the permanent plaza space at 800 Robson Street highlighted. (City of Vancouver)

With a detailed design fully complete, the project is now being expedited and construction will begin and finish this year.

“This project is quite unique in terms of the discussions we’ve had for years with the province to bring it forward. We have an opportunity to move very quickly now as the province has agreed to move forward it very quickly, with a project manager assigned,” said Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s chief engineer and general manager of engineering services, during the public meeting.

800 Robson Plaza

Final 2019 design for 800 Robson Plaza. (City of Vancouver)

Features of the new plaza include a continuous flat level of concrete and pavers consistent with the rest of Robson Square, improved drainage, landscaping, movable furniture, curved wooden benches around the glass domes, permanent lighting, and public art.

There will be bollards on both ends of the plaza, and to further frame the space and provide an added visual and physical barrier trees will be planted on the plaza’s Hornby Street end.

Additionally, improvements will be made to the intersections at Hornby Street and Howe Street, turning both crossings into an ‘infinity’ pattern pedestrian scramble.

During a traffic signal movement, all vehicle traffic is stopped and pedestrians can cross an intersection at every direction, even diagonally, at the same time.

While pedestrian scrambles are a unique concept to Vancouver, they exist in many other cities around the world, including at Yonge/Dundas in Toronto and outside Shibuya Station in Tokyo.

The plaza’s design is strategically intended to be simple and flexible to support a wide range of uses, especially for events, festivals, and vendors, which will have access to newly installed electrical and water connections.

Dobrovolny informed city council on the critical nature of the project as an amenity space to help support the city centre’s growing population.

“In close proximity, these public spaces become more and more important very year. People living in small residential spaces are using everything from the local coffee shop to small plazas as part of their ‘third space’ or living room,” said Dobrovolny. “As we see more and more people living in the downtown core, these spaces become absolutely critical.”

Charles Gauthier, the president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, also described how this new plaza on Robson Street will complement the recently rebuilt West Georgia Street plaza on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery.

It will allow the overall Robson Square and Vancouver Art Gallery precinct to host larger and a wider range of events.

2016 preliminary artistic rendering of 800 Robson Plaza. (City of Vancouver)

“It is really important to have two types of space that meet the different needs of programming. The Robson Plaza is sort of an incubator for festivals and events that are just starting and might eventually grow into something much larger,” said Gauthier. “And events on the larger North Plaza might eventually expand beyond that large plaza footprint… That room to grow is very important.”

He went on to add that “there is huge pent up demand for these event-friendly open plaza spaces” and there is already significant interest from LunarFest, Taiwan Fest, and the Vancouver Pride Festival to use this new Robson Plaza when completed.

“It is one of the only spaces that has extremely low barriers in terms of being able to activate there, versus Jack Poole Plaza, which has a number of barriers in place,” continued Gauthier.

This section of Robson Street is one of the busiest areas in the city for pedestrian traffic, which could make the new plaza suitable for ‘big city’ corporate activations, providing the municipal government with some revenue potential.

Vancouver Christmas Tree at 800 Robson Plaza. (Jenn Chan / Flickr)

Since the summer of 2017, a temporary design turned the 800 Robson Street city block into a pedestrian-only plaza, with elements consisting of an asphalt layer to create a single-level plaza surface, temporary planter barriers at the ends of the block, and movable street furniture. This past Christmas season, it was the location of Vancouver’s official Christmas Tree.

A decade ago, 800 Robson Street was rebuilt as part of the provincial government’s complete revamp of Robson Square in time for the 2010 Olympics.

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