Vancouver City Council to encourage new hotels on the Granville strip

Jan 31 2023, 11:11 pm

The area planning process for guiding the revitalization and future redevelopments within the Granville Entertainment District (GED) was unanimously approved by Vancouver City Council today.

Prior to endorsing the framework for the Granville Street Planning Program, which is expected to take 18 months, City Council also approved — without any opposition — major amendments to catalyze and expedite the construction of new tourist-serving hotels within the GED.

“Alongside cultural and entertainment districts, usually you also have very vibrant hotel uses,” said ABC councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung, who moved the amendments, noting that hotel uses co-exist well with such districts.

She stated the municipal government needs to do much more to create a better business climate for new hotels to open, given the current poor economics of doing so. This is largely due to the high cost of land, especially in Vancouver’s central areas where hotel developments can be expected.

The approved hotel considerations as outlined by Kirby-Yung direct City staff to advance any applications for new hotel developments, and create new policies that encourage new hotel developments within the five-block stretch of the GED along Granville Street between Robson and Drake streets.

During the temporary moratorium on new types of rezoning proposals along the GED over the duration of the planning process, there will be an exception for proposals with primarily hotel uses.

1176 granville street vancouver howard johnson

The former Howard Johnson hotel at 1176 Granville Street has been turned by BC Housing into the Lugaat supportive housing building. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

Kirby-Yung brought to attention the immense hotel shortage Vancouver is currently facing, which greatly risks the vitality and competitiveness of the region’s major tourism industry, one of the largest employing industries.

Even in 2018, according to a Destination Vancouver analysis, the city had about 1,100 fewer hotel rooms than just a decade earlier in the lead-up to the 2010 Olympics. With growing tourism demand, there has been a loss economic of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Over 600 more hotel rooms were lost earlier in the pandemic, when all three levels of government acquired lower-tier hotel properties for rapid housing for the homeless, including the GED properties of the Howard Johnson and Hostelling International Vancouver Central.

Destination Vancouver anticipates there could be up to 3.4 million additional visitors to the city on an annual basis by 2030, which would necessitate the construction of enough new hotels to expand the city’s accommodation capacity by up to 5,000 rooms. The opportunity cost of not doing so is about $2.6 billion annually in lost economic benefits, $387 million in direct tax revenues, and tens of thousands of jobs. Vancouver is also facing a hotel room shortage for its co-hosting role for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

Kirby-Yung adds that without an adequate hotel supply that matches growing demand, there will be fewer affordable accommodation options. It would also put more pressure on housing, with more property owners turning their suites into Airbnb listings from the very apparent demand of overnight visitors who are unable to find a traditional hotel room.

Additionally, Kirby-Yung’s approved amendment also directs City staff to process Bonnis Properties’ rezoning application for the 800 Granville Street redevelopment project, and advance the proposal to a referral of a public hearing at the earliest possible date. The full rezoning application was published on the City’s public consultation website on Monday.

“The revitalization of the Commodore Ballroom will allow significantly more music events to be held there, with more modernized facilities that enable load in and load out, and yet retains the historic features of that block,” said Kirby-Yung, describing the benefits of the 800 Granville Street redevelopment proposal.

“But it also does something that Granville Street desperately needs, which is to bring people into the area by day and by night, with additional offices. This proposal will have to go through its due diligence of review and public feedback, but that is a project that Council previously identified would fit under a quick start action” for reviving the GED.

800 granville street vancouver bonnis properties

August 2021 artistic rendering of the revised design for 800 Granville Street, Vancouver. (Perkins&Will/Bonnis Properties)

The Granville Street Planning Program will establish policies that focus on improving and intensifying traditional entertainment district uses for the area, including restaurants, pubs, bars, and nightlife and entertainment venues, as well as office and retail uses to provide the GED with activity during the daytime as well.

“Let’s find the way to make Granville Street the destination for Vancouverites for the next generation, something that is friendly and accessible to all Vancouverites,” said Green councillor Pete Fry. “Not just for weekend warriors coming in from the suburbs to get rowdy, fight, and drink, but actually for families, for Vancouverites, for visitors, and for folks who want to come in from the suburbs and have a good time.”

City staff previously indicated the core of the GED — the three blocks of Granville Street between Robson and Helmcken streets — would see a prohibition from any new residential uses, given the incompatibility of such uses with excess light and noise emitted from the entertainment district uses. Over time, through redevelopments, any existing residential uses would also be removed in this area.

“The history and legacy of Granville Street is the one and only entertainment district we have in the heart of our city,” she said.

The planning process will also consider public space improvements to the GED, including Kirby-Yung’s request to consider a vehicle-free zone on the Granville strip, which would entail the rerouting of buses to adjacent streets.

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