A decision has been made by the provincial government to permanently close the iconic public viewpoint of the large reflecting pool on the rooftop of the Vancouver Law Courts, located at Robson Square.
The lease for the Law Courts Inn, which is set to expire on September 30, will not be renewed, as the provincial government is moving forward with a plan to convert the north-facing restaurant into additional office space.
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“We understand the desire to keep the Law Courts Inn open; however, there is a need for government office space in downtown Vancouver, and it is increasingly challenging to find viable space in this market,” said Anne Kang, the BC Minister of Citizens’ Services, in a statement to Daily Hive Urbanized.
“Government needs to be fiscally prudent and balance the costs of renting office space with the revenue we receive for leases to third-party organizations. Robson Square is an iconic building and any changes made to it are undertaken with the original vision of Arthur Erickson, the building’s architect, in mind.”
But the longtime operator alleges the decision to not renew the lease was made without consultation with stakeholders, including the Arthur Erickson Foundation.
Adam Howden-Duke, the president of The Lawyers Inn Society, the not-for-profit organization that has operated the venue for four decades, asserts it would reverse the famed architect’s intent of devoting this space for public uses. From both the interior and the outdoor patio, there is a direct view of the reflecting pond that frames the old courthouse building, now the home of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
“When the courthouse complex was designed by Arthur Erickson, it had, in its centre, a large space devoted to a restaurant overlooking an infinity pool. The space was always intended to be a public one, and with the blessing of the then provincial government, the Lawyers Inn Society took over the operation of the restaurant, on the condition that it be open to the public,” reads an open letter by Howden-Duke to the provincial government.
The Law Courts opened in 1983, and the provincial government at the time spent $1 million in 2020 dollars to turn the space into a restaurant.
“The stunning views of the reflecting pond — one of the architect’s (and the Law Courts complex’s) crowning achievements — would no longer be able to be enjoyed by members of the public,” he wrote, emphasizing that the view of the pond is not available anywhere else in the complex.
The restaurant is at the southern end of the pond, and it empties out on the northern end by spilling over the infinity edge, and into three cascading waterfalls — each into a small pool — before the water is recirculated to the top.
“Instead, it would be cut off forever, to be enjoyed by the select few who are lucky enough to occupy what will be the most palatial offices for any public servants in the province,” he continued.
“The perception of that view being taken away forever from the taxpayers of this province, so that an as yet undisclosed group may occupy offices in that space can only result in a negative perception of this government’s decision to seize the space for its own purposes.”
The entire restaurant covers a relatively small floor area of 6,600 sq. ft., with the operator estimating only 75% of the footprint can be repurposed for office.
Over the three-year span ending in March 2020, the Law Courts Inn held 473 events for the bench, bar, companies, and the public. They recorded total revenues of about $750,000 in 2018, and over $860,000 in 2019.
They have a dozen full-time staff and 25 part-time staff, but most of the employees have been furloughed since the start of the health crisis.
The venue still has 15 events booked between February and August in 2021, including 12 weddings, which is a primary source of revenue. Over their history, they have waived rental costs for a significant number of volunteer and pro bono organizations.
Even during the pandemic, the society has continued to pay the full amount of their $9,450 monthly rent, without complaint. Before the onset of COVID-19, they had about $320,000 in reserves.
But they also acknowledge they owe $142,000 in rent from over the past decade, when the Law Courts Inn was unable to operate due to construction immediately outside the windows. As well, over a number of years, the reflecting pond was left an “empty eyesore,” collecting goose guano, due to a lack of maintenance. These conditions at the time forced the operator to cancel many events and lose potential business.
“Happily for all concerned, the reflecting pond has now been operating for some time, allowing the Inn to earn income from functions, and the society has enjoyed a good working relationship with the facility management over its operation,” added Howden-Duke.