There is much to like with the Plaza of Nations redevelopment on one of the last and largest remaining under-utilized sites, the former BC Pavilion from Expo ’86, in Northeast False Creek.
The approved project packs in an unprecedented, quantifiable level of public benefits — a staggering $325.5 million in community amenity contributions, largely in the form of in-kind value through the type of on-site development.
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A civic centre will contain a 17,000-sq-ft music venue, a 30,000-sq-ft, 400-seat practice ice rink for the Vancouver Canucks that doubles as a public ice rink when not in use by the team, a daycare, and 34,000 sq. ft. of community centre space.
There will be nearly 1,500 homes, including 380 units of social housing.
But this is so much more than just another residential development.
Many global cities with great waterfronts typically have a commercial waterfront in their city centres, especially on the ground level. Unlike most spans of the downtown Vancouver waterfront that only see residential frontage for the seawall and other waterside public spaces, there will be an immense level of commercial frontage within this 2.1 million sq. ft. redevelopment.
The developer, Canadian Metropolitan Properties (CMP), has set aside 400,000 sq. ft. of commercial space within multiple lower levels. The intention is to create an actual designated entertainment district, featuring retail, restaurants, and pubs, with outdoor patios.
These businesses will also activate the significant event-friendly public realm planned for the redevelopment, including a large, partially covered central plaza, paved public spaces, publicly accessible grass roofs, and a seamless continuation of the seawall.
All of these uses and components for an entertainment district further supports and complements the tides of crowds that stream in and out BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena. It is also a departure from Vancouver’s previous odd approach of allowing residential frontage next to the stadiums, most notoriously the rows of townhouses that line Citadel Parade and the Georgia Viaduct just beyond the entrances into Rogers Arena.
The Plaza of Nations redevelopment is an outstanding project by CMP and James Cheng Architects that will help make this a truly vibrant corner of the city centre.
But with the project’s approved form, it comes at a great cost to the city’s recently gained visual identity: this trio of towers will conceal much of the only skyline views of BC Place Stadium and its iconic 2011-built roof with the ever-changing Northern Lights display and the dazzling system of catenary lights suspended high over the fabric roof.
In my previous discussions with Cheng and CMP, to their credit, they tried to address this as much as possible in their design. The shape of the towers are inspired by mountains, with the terraced levels forming a “valley” that creates the space for the central plaza, which frames a significantly reduced view of the stadium roof.
But if it were not for the view cones that protect the North Shore mountains, the bulking masses of the condominium portion of the towers could be slimmed down, and the same density redistributed by building taller. This could have created a much larger opening between the two main massings, instead of the current design that merely provides a peek-a-boo of the stadium roof.
The property is affected by four view cones: 2.1: from Cambie Bridge to Mount Seymour; 3.2.3: from Queen Elizabeth Park to the downtown skyline and North Shore mountains; 9.1: from the intersection of Cambie Street and 10th Avenue outside City Hall to the North Shore mountains; and 9.2.2: from the Cambie Bridge to the North Shore mountains.
As a result, the buildings can only reach a maximum height of 295 ft (89.9 m).
Given the project’s record-breaking community amenity contribution obligations and the expectation that it will help fund a major portion of the city’s $1.7 billion in planned public benefits for Northeast False Creek — viaduct demolition, new roadways, and new public parks — the redevelopment has to maximize its floor area, particularly the condominium floor area, to ensure it is a financially viable project.
In essence, going vertical with taller and slimmer towers could have not only achieved the same building uses and floor area, but also saved the only view of the stadium roof. The onus was on the city and their unrelenting view cone restrictions, not the proponents.
I first wrote about this very issue in 2016, about a year before the architect and developer released their updated proposed design with mountain-like formations. Prior to the revision, there was an older concept with several slimmer glass towers as well as an arching structure that provided a “window” hole view of the stadium.
By all accounts, BC Place Stadium’s place in the skyline is highly cherished by the public. The stadium, especially during the nighttime when the lighting system displays a kaleidoscope of colours, has become one of the most photographed and recognizable sections of a downtown skyline that has few manmade landmarks. It provides a much-needed break — a unique flair and flavour — from the monotony of mostly cookie-cutter condominium towers.
A non-scientific online poll in the 2016 article asked Daily Hive readers the following: “Does BC Place Stadium enhance the Vancouver skyline?” There was an overwhelming response to the article, and nearly 7,000 unique votes were cast. The result: over 88% of our readers answered “Yes.”
All of this leads to the ultimate question: In this specific scenario, should these mountain views from a handful of highly specific locations be prioritized by suppressing the Plaza of Nation’s tower heights and blocking more of the stadium view or should the towers be allowed to penetrate through the view cone ceiling to allow for taller, slimmer towers?
The towering mountains can be seen from basically everywhere and countless perspectives, but the stadium roof’s presence in the skyline can only be enjoyed from the southern perspective — from the Southeast False Creek seawall and beyond.
Moreover, the current application of view cone restrictions often results in the reduction of floor area, effectively cutting back on housing, job space, economic vitality, and the project’s financial feasibility. There is zero suggestion of that in protecting the stadium views, rather the density is simply redistributed from the current form of fat, stubby towers to slim, taller towers.
In recent years, we have already lost some other skyline stadium roof perspectives as a result of Parq Vancouver. The other Northeast False Creek developments of Pavco’s BC Place tower and Concord Pacific’s lands will also close up more of the stadium view.
Enjoy the unique views of BC Place Stadium and its lighting display while it lasts, before these skyline views are concealed and the only way to see the landmark and its lights is to be standing right outside the building.