Open and airy spaces are common features of contemporary mall design, but they are not exactly the traits that CF Pacific Centre is known to have today, like the grand indoor public areas of CF Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto and CF Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa, or Place Montreal Trust, Complexe Les Ailes, and Montreal Eaton Centre in downtown Montreal.
In these cities, indoor public spaces are a necessary feature to ensure social life in the public realm and brick-and-mortar retail can survive during the harsh winters. To a certain extent, this is also very true for Metro Vancouver’s dreary wet climate.
At Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby, there are several atriums — the largest called the Grand Court — that occasionally host seasonal activities, events, and immersive marketing experiences.
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It was not too long ago that one such space existed in downtown Vancouver, within the northern end of CF Pacific Centre — on the city block north of Dunsmuir Street.
Up until about 15 years ago, the space currently occupied by Holt Renfrew, which remains as mall property, was once a three-storey indoor atrium space, framed by dozens of shops around its perimeter.
An impressive three-storey waterfall feature completed the earthy design concept of the shopping centre back in the day, with footbridges right against a green wall waterfall at every level, and the water cascading into a large pool with a high spray fountain. Zeidler Architecture
The mall’s food court was previously located in this wing of CF Pacific Centre, within the lower floor of the atrium at the building’s corner with the intersection of Dunsmuir Street and Granville Street.
Prior to the atrium’s demolition, the northern wing’s prominent chain retailers included Sport Chek and Coast Mountain Sports, Espirit, and EB Games, and just a few years earlier Old Navy was also located in this section of the mall.
But in 2005, Vancouver City Council approved Cadillac Fairview’s (CF) request to eliminate the publicly accessible atrium and most of its retailers to make way for a new and expanded 150,000-sq-ft Holt Renfrew flagship store. It would replace Holt Renfrew’s longtime three-storey, 68,000-sq-ft location, where H&M is currently located today.
The longest holdout of the former atrium’s remaining retailers would prove to be Sport Chek and Coast Mountain Sports, which relocated in 2016 to the former Chapters bookstore space at the southeast corner of the intersection of Robson Street and Howe Street. Sport Chek’s decision to leave CF Pacific Centre also allowed Holt Renfrew to expand its men’s department, growing the flagship store size by 40,000 sq. ft. to 190,000 sq. ft.
The old atrium was approved by the municipal government in 1986, including 6,000 sq. ft. of floor area formally designated as a public amenity atrium. At the time, the city stipulated “the owners are required to construct, complete, and furnish the atrium space for the enjoyment of the public,” and that “the owners are required to encourage, promote, and programme the atrium space for community, cultural, and artistic activities.”
But the atrium, with its series of grades connected by stairs and staircases, seemingly inspired by CF Toronto Eaton Centre’s success, was poorly designed for these functional purposes. Both CF Pacific Centre and CF Toronto Eaton Centre were designed by Toronto-based Zeidler Architecture.
One of the rationales of the mall owner in 2005, supported by city staff, for removing the atrium space was that it “has always been problematic functioning as a public space, being hidden well inside the building, and being difficult to program for events.”
The food court at the atrium also saw significantly less foot traffic, compared to the current central location that opened next to the mall’s Hudson’s Bay entrance in 2007. Overall, the northern block of the mall saw less foot traffic than the sections to the south, largely due to the poor connectivity of the narrow escalators and corridor that serve to bridge the gap under Dunsmuir Street between the mall’s first level to the south and the atrium wing to the north.
In 2006, city council approved a rezoning application that provided CF Pacific Centre with 70,000 sq. ft. of additional retail area, including 60,000 sq. ft. of retail space for the public plazas at the northeast corner of the intersection of Howe Street and West Georgia Street, and the southwest corner of the intersection of Granville Street and West Georgia Street. The remaining additional retail space was for the Holt Renfrew relocation, and future flexibility for the relocation of retail tenants from one part of the mall to another for the atrium redevelopment.
In exchange for the earlier city council decision allowing the removal of the atrium, CF was mandated to deliver one of two options: build a more publicly accessible atrium, suitable for public gatherings and events, replacing the rotunda glass dome at the Howe/Georgia plaza, or provide a major high profile street entrance for the Canada Line’s Vancouver City Centre Station at the Granville/Georgia plaza.
Both the municipal government and the mall owner agreed on the option of an in-plaza street entrance for the Canada Line station, which was “a matter of highest City priority.” Under the agreement, CF covered the $7.5-million cost of the $11.5-million, in-plaza street entrance for the station, with the Canada Line project covering the remaining $4 million.
Fulfilling the construction of the in-plaza station entrance released the mall owner from its obligation to build a new publicly accessible atrium at the Howe/Georgia plaza. The rotunda at this plaza location was demolished earlier in 2020 for the construction of a new 14,000-sq-ft, two-storey retail pavilion building for Apple’s new flagship store at the mall. The pavilion also re-establishes an outdoor plaza, and includes a new, smaller replacement entrance into the mall next to the office tower.
If desired, CF could still fill in the Granville/Georgia plaza next to the Canada Line station entrance with a retail building expansion. In 2015, a small footprint of the plaza was used for the lobby entrance into the new office levels above Nordstrom in the redevelopment of the former Sears building, previously Eatons.
Early in 2020, Four Seasons Vancouver Hotel closed its longtime location at CF Pacific Centre, and the mall owner announced a new yet-to-be-named hotel operator will take over the location.
Crews have been gutting the hotel tower throughout the year for the extensive renovations required for the new operator. It is unclear whether portions of the hotel tower’s base will be repurposed as an expansion of CF Pacific Centre’s retail space.