City of Vancouver still intends to demolish Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts

Apr 22 2022, 9:19 pm

The strategy to carry out the Northeast False Creek Plan’s (NEFC) components, including the demolition of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts, is not dead — just significantly delayed.

In an update on the project this week, the first update on NEFC in years, City of Vancouver staff stated the demolition process for both 1 km long bridge structures that bring Eastside and regional arterial vehicle traffic directly onto downtown’s escarpment will begin no earlier than 2027.

Before the viaducts demolition work can proceed, the first package is to rebuild and merge Pacific Boulevard and Expo Boulevard, with Pacific Boulevard between Pat Quinn Way and Expo Boulevard becoming a two-way street. This first package work is expected to begin “in the next few years.”

The larger second package starting in 2027 at the earliest includes a new four-lane vehicle ramp for West Georgia Street between Beatty Street and the reconfigured Pacific Boulevard — situated between BC Place Stadium and Rogers Arena. This second package also includes the 750-metre-long Dunsmuir Connection elevated pathway for pedestrians and cyclists from Beatty Street to Quebec Street and rebuilding Pacific Boulevard between Pat Quinn Way and Quebec Street as a two-way street.

Existing condition of Northeast False Creek:

dunsmuir georgia viaducts northeast false creek concord lands

Aerial of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts, and the overall Northeast False Creek Plan area. (Google Earth)

Planned future condition of Northeast False Creek:

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April 2022 update on the Northeast False Creek Plan areas, with Package 1 (pink) and Package 2 (blue) of the viaducts demolition and surface road replacement project highlighted. (City of Vancouver)

But this entirely depends on the incoming flow of the area’s development-generated revenues, which will fund the demolition of the viaducts, the area’s new road network, major new public spaces and various other public benefits. So far, apart from the Plaza of Nations redevelopment, there is very little movement by the property owners to advance their projects, according to city staff. The first package will be funded by Canadian Metropolitan Properties’ contributions from the Plaza of Nations project.

The costs to carry out viaducts demolition and NEFC are not evident in any existing city capital plan this decade.

The previous Vancouver City Council approved the NEFC Plan and associated viaducts demolition in early 2018. At the time, it was anticipated viaducts demolition would begin in 2020, with the $360 million cost of demolition — up from previous estimates of $130 million in 2013 and $200 million in 2015 — including both the viaducts removal and the new ground-level road network.

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Georgia Viaduct next to Rogers Arena, June 2020. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

georgia viaduct northeast false creek

Georgia Viaduct next to Rogers Arena, June 2020. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

The developer-funded NEFC public benefits and road infrastructure costs were estimated at $1.7 billion about five years ago, but it is no secret that there has been immense cost escalation due to inflation in recent years. The total cost figure includes $603 million for social housing components, plus 32 acres of new and renewed public parks and open spaces, a new community and recreational centre, and several childcare facilities.

In early 2020, the Dunsmuir Connection elevated pathway, a concept similar to New York City’s Highline Park, was estimated to cost $90 million.

City staff now anticipate the entirety of the NEFC Plan components will be “implemented over about 20 years through development, partnerships, and city initiatives.”

In June 2018, the previous city council approved Canadian Metropolitan Properties’ rezoning application for the Plaza of Nations, and a development permit application was submitted earlier this year to proceed with the first phase — a mixed-use residential tower with over one million sq ft of floor area on the western parcel of the 10-acre site. It will be one of Vancouver’s largest single new-build tower buildings in total floor area. Construction could begin in late 2022 or early 2023.

Another development in NEFC was spearheaded by provincial crown corporation Pavco to build a significant mixed-use residential tower on the surface parking lot at the southeast corner of BC Place Stadium. The previous city council provided Pavco with approval for its rezoning application in July 2018, but conditions on determining the allowable height based on the proportion of rental housing incorporated may have altered the financial viability of the project, which was intended to be primarily a market residential project to help pay for the stadium’s renovation costs in the early 2010s. Pavco has yet to submit a development permit application to proceed with its tower.

As for the largest development in NEFC, according to city staff, it has not received a rezoning application from Concord Pacific. The developer previously proposed nearly three million sq ft of floor area on its 10-acre lot. Still, the public hearing for the rezoning application initially scheduled for September 2018 — just weeks before the October 2018 civic election — was abruptly cancelled. Concord Pacific’s redevelopment accounts for a significant portion of the overall NEFC public benefits.

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2020 model of the Plaza of Nations redevelopment. (James Cheng Architects/Canadian Metropolitan Properties)

BC Place Site 10C Tower

Revised 2018 design of the Site 10C tower redevelopment at BC Place Stadium. (Stantec Architecture/Pavco)

Artistic rendering of Concord Pacific’s redevelopment design on its portion of the Northeast False Creek. (Concord Pacific / Dialog)

The municipal government is also planning major mixed-use building developments of its own on two city blocks between Quebec Street and Gore Street that are currently occupied by the viaducts. The block west of Main Street will be oriented around Chinatown’s character, while the block east of Main Street will be a reimagination of Hogan’s Alley. Both city-owned blocks will have affordable rental housing above cultural and community facilities and retail and restaurant spaces.

NEFC also promises the creation of a 14-acre waterfront public park through a northward extension of the existing Creekside Park, the use of the Concord Lands, and a portion of the existing footprints of Pacific Boulevard and the viaducts. The construction of this public park — including the Dunsmuir Connection elevated pathway and the new replacement skateboard park — will be aligned with the second package of the viaducts demolition component.

If NEFC is fully realized, there will be homes for up to 12,000 new additional residents, including affordable rental housing for about 3,300 residents. The various office, retail, restaurant, and entertainment spaces will generate up to 8,000 jobs. NEFC’s areas within the Plaza of Nations and Concord Pacific developments are intended to be a new stadium-oriented lively entertainment district.

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Concept for the Dunsmuir Connection, January 2020. (City of Vancouver)

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Preliminary Dunsmuir Connection concept. (City of Vancouver)

Dunsmiur Connection

Preliminary Dunsmuir Connection concept. (City of Vancouver)

Dunsmiur Connection

Preliminary Dunsmuir Connection concept. (City of Vancouver)

If and when the viaducts are demolished, it is anticipated existing vehicle traffic will be transplanted down onto surface roads, mixing with pedestrians and cyclists. Significantly higher traffic volumes can be expected on the reconfigured Pacific Boulevard and new West Georgia Street ramp, as well as on Hastings Street, Pender Street, and Cordova Street. The viaducts see an average of about 45,000 vehicles daily.

New west-east road connections across the downtown peninsula will also be particularly important for the relocation of St. Paul’s Hospital to a newly expanded campus at the existing easternmost end of the viaducts in the False Creek Flats. The $2.2 billion first phase of the hospital campus is expected to reach completion and open in 2027.

The City of Vancouver is currently in the midst of an infrastructure deficit, with an inability to keep up with aging infrastructure in need of replacement, and building added infrastructure to keep up with growth. In an update to the city council earlier this month, city staff stated there is currently about $300 million annually available for renewal infrastructure funding against the needed funding of $800 million annually. This means the city’s infrastructure deficit is roughly $500 million per year, not including projects like NEFC.

While the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts demolition is likely years away, the city is planning to proceed with the demolition of the north loops of the Granville Street Bridge later in 2022. This will allow for the creation of a new street grid, with new city blocks enabling close to one million sq ft of housing, including rentals.

New West Georgia Street ramp between Beatty Street and the reconfigured Pacific Boulevard, located between Rogers Arena and BC Place Stadium on the current footprint of the Georgia viaduct. (City of Vancouver)

Dunsmiur Connection

Preliminary Dunsmuir Connection concept. (City of Vancouver)

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