City of Vancouver takes aim to bring back Hogan's Alley next to Chinatown

Sep 16 2022, 11:10 pm

Compared to its heyday, there are few reminders in and around the area of Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside that it was once a historically vibrant Japantown district, up until the internment of Japanese Canadians in the advent of the Second World War.

One of the last remaining reminders is the 1928-built Japanese Hall, which remains a cultural and language centre as essentially the community’s last stand.

Four years ago, a family-owned operation opened Dasanko restaurant purposefully within the historic Japantown area, but they have been facing immense setbacks from not only the declining state of the area but two separate fires just weeks apart this summer. The first fire occurred above the restaurant in the SRO, and the second fire occurred next door, causing even more smoke and water damage, and extending the duration of the temporary closure.

To the south of former Japantown, much has already been said about the state of Chinatown. Businesses, community, and cultural organizations have made it clear that they feel Chinatown is now on its last stand, and that the present-day reality the historic district is facing is being ignored by the City of Vancouver.

There are almost weekly reports of unprovoked incidents in and around Chinatown, most recently the 22-year-old refugee from Afghanistan who incurred serious injuries from being stabbed while working as a meal deliverer.

Now the City of Vancouver is turning its attention to making right a previous historical wrong to the Black community south of Chinatown, based on its account of its role in the demise of Hogan’s Alley five decades ago for the construction of the replacement viaducts, which would double as part of a highway network. The existing Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts replaced a 1915-built viaduct that was in poor condition, with the bridge serving as a land overpass above the False Creek railyard to reach downtown Vancouver’s escarpment. The railyard was removed ahead of Expo ’86.

hogans alley footprint

Footprint of the historic Hogan’s Alley in the present day urban context. (Vancouver Heritage Foundation)

temporary modular housing

Temporary modular housing building at 258 Union Street in Vancouver’s Chinatown, within the footprint of the former Hogan’s Alley at the easternmost end of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts. (Government of BC)

In a September 2022 update to Northeast False Creek stakeholders, City of Vancouver staff announced Vancouver City Council had approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Hogan’s Alley Society (HAS), which paves forward a long-term lease of the land to the non-profit organization.

In turn, HAS will be responsible for all costs of the design, construction, programming, operation, maintenance, and other capital costs related to redeveloping the easternmost end of the viaducts — the City-owned block at 898 Main Street, framed by Main Street to the west, Union Street to the north, Gore Avenue to the east, and Prior Street to the south. Other than the viaducts, this city block is largely informal non-park green space, with a temporary modular housing building.

“The MOU provides critical context for the next stages of the redevelopment of the 898 Main Street Block. This will include further discussions and negotiations of the terms of the lease, and work by HAS on engaging with the community and fundraising with senior government agencies as well as developing detailed business, financial, and development plans for the Block,” reads the September 2022 letter by the City.

“The MOU confirms both parties’ intention to work together in a cooperative and collaborative manner to enable the redevelopment of the 898 Main Street Block to achieve the diverse public benefits identified above within the context of the vision set out in the Northeast False Creek Plan, once the viaducts have been removed.”

Architectural concepts for the Main Street Blocks, with the west block and east block of Hogan’s Alley depicted after the potential future demolition of the viaducts. (Perkins & Will/City of Vancouver)

But the latter, the demolition of the viaducts and replacement with a ground-level road network, is up in the air due to much slower than expected progress on implementing the Northeast False Creek Plan (NEFCP), which is heavily dependent on development-driven revenues within the area plan.

The developer-funded NEFC public benefits, viaducts demolition, 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.

Over four years ago, the municipal government anticipated demolition of the viaducts would begin in 2020.

Earlier this year, City staff suggested the demolition of the viaducts will begin no earlier than 2027. This entirely depends on building the replacement ground-level road network first, when funding is made available for it through development-driven revenues.

The 2023-2026 capital plan approved by City Council in June 2022 notes that minor structural repairs will be performed on the viaducts over the short term. But if the viaducts are not replaced by 2032, “additional investments to the existing viaducts would be required.”

Artistic rendering of the new Hogan’s Alley. (Perkins + Will / City of Vancouver)

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)

While the redevelopment of the viaducts block east of Main Street will be a reimagination of Hogan’s Alley led by HAS, the viaducts block west of Main Street will be oriented around Chinatown’s character. Both city-owned blocks will have affordable rental housing above cultural and community facilities, and retail and restaurant spaces.

The viaducts block west of Main Street, the new Hogan’s Alley, includes having “the cultural centre be a focus for the Black community, while also being open and welcoming to all, and located on Main Street. In addition, the Plan calls for a focus on culturally-centred retail and food (African Diaspora specific) and direction to draw inspiration from the African diaspora in the design of the centre of the block,” according to a June 2022 letter by City staff to the Chinatown community.

The June 2022 letter also aimed to address points raised by the Chinatown community that they were also historically directly impacted by the demolition of the Hogan’s Alley block.

“This is not to say that other communities were not affected. We know and recognize that there was a mix of communities on the block that owned and rented there, including members of the Chinese Canadian community,” reads the letter.

“The rationale for the policy direction in NEFC regarding the 898 Main Street block was not based on ownership. Rather it is based on the recognition of the intentional and gradual displacement and elimination of the centre of the Black community over the years prior to the construction of the viaducts.”

At the moment, the one and only development proceeding under the NEFCP is the development of the west parcel of the Plaza of Nations, which is the first phase of three phases of the redevelopment of the former BC Pavilion from Expo ’86. City staff approved the project’s development permit application earlier this year.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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