“The devil is in the details”: Here’s what needs to happen to see Broadway become an urban hub

Nov 23 2022, 4:12 pm

Earlier this year, the City of Vancouver approved the Broadway Plan, a 30-year strategy for the redevelopment of East and West Broadway built around the construction of the SkyTrain Millennium Line’s Broadway Extension.

The plan promises growth for the city, both in housing and employment, in a way that will fulfill the future needs of all the people who will live, work, and play in the Broadway area. But how exactly will it come to fruition?

We spoke to two experts at Colliers, one of Canada’s leading commercial real estate companies, about who and what needs to be aligned for the smooth implementation of this plan, what it will take for it to actually work, and why it’s necessary in the first place.

“The Broadway Plan is necessary to increase the amount of housing our city needs to accommodate immigration, and to facilitate economic growth with new job space,” says Jessica Hathaway, associate vice president with Colliers Vancouver Brokerage. “This area includes some of Vancouver’s most desirable real estate, and we are very excited to see the new housing, office, hotel, and retail concepts that will transform the city as we know it today.”

“We know that transit-oriented development is a proven city builder. People want to live, work, and play in accessible neighbourhoods,” says Richard Harris, senior vice president of infrastructure with Colliers Project Leaders. “This is really taking advantage of that initial investment in the Broadway Subway and then enhancing the existing area.”

A plan of this scale inevitably raises certain issues. For Hathaway, a major concern is the potential development issues that could arise if the city implements a proposed pace of change policy, which would limit the number of properties allowed to be developed in a given time frame, as well as the current economic environment we find ourselves in. Both factors have the ability to make development difficult in the years to come.

“Although the Broadway Plan provides a framework for new development, the housing that everyone is hoping for won’t occur overnight,” Hathaway explains. “This higher interest rate environment is making development more challenging, and the city of Vancouver is going to miss its new housing target if it implements policies that restrict development or make projects more time-consuming with red tape.”

To combat this, she says, the City of Vancouver needs to work on policies that allow developments to go ahead in a time-efficient manner. The upcoming Community Amenity Contributions (CAC) policy offers an opportunity to do so.

“We are hoping that the City releases a set CAC target policy instead of using a negotiated approach,” she says. “This will make it much easier for developers to evaluate projects within the corridor because this cost can be quantified, whereas a negotiated approach presents an unknown amount which requires back-and-forth discussions between developers and the city — it takes much more time and resources.”

For Harris, a key component in the implementation of the Broadway Plan is for stakeholders and key players to be aligned — this includes the city, the development community, and the residents. Without a shared vision or plan, he says, we risk getting density without community. There are also important factors the city must keep in mind in order for this plan to reach its full potential and actually work.

“The first thing to keep in mind is the importance of high-quality transit-oriented development — mixed-use proposals where you’ve got street-front retail, office, and commercial at podium level, and a mix of all kinds of housing solutions,” he explains. “The second is supporting green infrastructure. It’s not just about the property development. There needs to be an investment in its supporting infrastructure too, at the city and provincial levels, to create this vision of a complete, vibrant, and walkable community.”

This supporting infrastructure will include things like new or expanded schools, childcare and community healthcare facilities, community centres, parks, green and open spaces, and active transport solutions — all of which are necessary to support a growing population.

Harris also points out that the repercussions the plan will have on existing businesses along the Broadway corridor are a concern shared by both the development community and the general population. However, when compared to the Broadway Subway’s construction, the redevelopment will be localized and spread out over a longer time period, lessening any impact on existing businesses. As the implementation of the plan progresses, both existing and new businesses will be net beneficiaries.

“I am very empathetic to existing businesses that needed to stay open during the subway’s construction,” he says. “But for this Broadway Plan to be successful, we really need a mix of retail, commercial and office space, along with the housing component, to accommodate the mix of businesses and services that make a community complete. That mixture is going to be super important, and it’s also important that we’re not catering to one end or another.” 

Overall, both Hathaway and Harris believe the plan is necessary. If maintained as is and proceeds without changes, it will successfully revitalize the Broadway core, turning it into a vibrant urban centre that will spur the city’s growth.

On the basis that the plan is adhered to at all levels, I think there are a lot of great opportunities it can present,” Harris says. “It’s important that each redevelopment proposal be viewed through a community-building lens with strong ties to transit… For developers, I would say, think big and bold — do your homework on the best transit-oriented developments and how you can replicate those.”

For more expert insights from Colliers on the Broadway Plan and the commercial real estate space, click here.

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