Vancouver 2030 Olympic Village in a First Nations development a possibility

Dec 15 2021, 3:10 am

Could an Athletes Village for the 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games be situated within a future First Nations development in Metro Vancouver?

That possibility is being seriously explored by the newly formed First Nations-led exploration committee on the feasibility of a bid to re-host the Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler.

Last Friday, the Four Host First Nations from the 2010 Games — Lilwat, Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh — reunited and joined the municipal governments of Vancouver and Whistler in a new partnership that will see the First Nations leading the efforts, and strategically benefiting from the potential legacies and spinoffs as a measure of reconciliation.

One of the biggest components of the potential Games plan is the need to determine the locations and concepts for the Athletes Village for housing thousands of athletes and officials.

Just like in 2010, an Athletes Village in each of the two main sports venue clusters — Vancouver and Whistler — is likely. The village in Southeast False Creek was built to accommodate 2,800 athletes and officials, while the village in the Cheakamus Valley had a capacity for 2,400 athletes and officials. With the addition of new sports disciplines to the Winter Games since 2010, the total number of athletes and officials have since grown by about 10%, and it is likely to increase further by 2030.

Vancouver Olympic Village construction

A sea of cranes in Southeast False Creek near downtown Vancouver in December 2007 for the construction of the Vancouver Olympic Village. (Al Harvey/Flickr)

Without direct First Nations involvement, finding a centrally-located and suitably-sized site for an Athletes Village in the Vancouver area would likely be a difficult and expensive proposition.

Three of the Four Host First Nations are already some of the largest private landowners in Metro Vancouver. The Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nation, through their for-profit development company, the MST Development Corporation, own four neighbourhood-sized properties that are being eyed for major mixed-use redevelopments — each with homes for thousands of residents.

Wilson Williams, an elected councillor and spokesperson of Squamish Nation, told Daily Hive Urbanized the opportunity to house the world’s athletes in First Nations-driven developments could be symbolically powerful, and provide material benefit.

“At the outset now, I see the next step is to move to the feasibility stage, design a collaboration agreement, and move forward with the dialogue,” said Williams, adding that Vancouver 2010 had a long-lasting legacy by inspiring the Squamish community, and providing them with business opportunities and experience.

“With an Olympic Village, I can see it within our nation’s territories and really utilizing our stories of the land, opening up our arms to make all our guests from across the world and hopefully they’ll get a sense that they are at home, and prepare themselves in that nature for their competitions,” he continued.

MST Development Corporation is involved in four major non-reserve redevelopment projects across Metro Vancouver.

jericho lands vancouver concept plan

Option 1 Eagle concept for Jericho Lands. (MST Development Corporation/Canada Lands Company)

The largest of their projects is the Jericho Lands in Vancouver’s Point Grey neighbourhood, where the largely undeveloped 90-acre site could be turned into a new high-density, mixed-use district with 9,000 homes — with 20% of the units for social housing and 10% for rentals — plus one million sq ft of office, retail, and amenity spaces.

The Athletes Village would theoretically only require the completion of the housing provided in the first phases of the massive project, which is anticipated to begin construction as early as 2025 — if the project receives its various approvals from the municipal government over the coming years.

The timely use of Jericho Lands for the Athletes Village could also help support the case of building the UBC subway extension of the SkyTrain Millennium Line before the end of this decade. But given the site’s location, there would be longer travel times for athletes and officials to most of the sports venues in Metro Vancouver.

jericho lands vancouver concept plan

Option 1 Eagle concept for Jericho Lands, looking southwest into the car-free corridor from the entrance plaza at the intersection of West 4th Avenue and Highbury Street in the northeast quadrant. (MST Development Corporation/Canada Lands Company)

Another site possibility is the use of the Heather Lands — the former BC RCMP headquarters — just west of Queen Elizabeth Park on the Cambie Street Corridor. Of all of the MST projects within Vancouver, it is most advanced, given that Vancouver City Council approved the policy statement in 2018, and the rezoning application was submitted in late 2020. In contrast, the Jericho Lands is not expected to reach the policy statement stage for city council’s review and approval until Summer 2022.

Nearly 1,000 of the 2,300 homes planned for the 21-acre Heather Lands redevelopment are slated to be a mix of social housing and rentals. Heather Lands is located in the geographic centre of the city, and as a result it provides more convenient access to sports venues and facilities, downtown Vancouver, and Vancouver International Airport. During the 2010 Games, Cambie Street served as a critical function for VANOC’s operations, with Olympic-only vehicle lanes designated for this route between the airport and downtown.

Both of the MST projects at the Jericho Lands and Heather Lands are in partnership with federal crown corporation Canada Lands Company.

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands 2020

November 2020 Heather Lands rezoning design at 4949-5255 Heather Street, Vancouver. (DIALOG/Canada Lands Company/MST)

4949-5255 Heather Street 657 West 37th Avenue Heather Lands 2020 15

November 2020 Heather Lands rezoning design at 4949-5255 Heather Street, Vancouver. (DIALOG/Canada Lands Company/MST)

MST has also partnered with Aquilini Investment Group for the redevelopment of the 10-acre former BC Liquor Distribution Branch warehouse next to SkyTrain Rupert Station in East Vancouver. But the site is tight, and its adjacency to a busy freight railway and industrial properties is less than ideal for a showcase project to the world.

Last month, MST Development and Aquilini also announced their proposed master plan for the 40-acre redevelopment of the Willingdon Lands immediately west of the BCIT Burnaby campus. They are proposing to build 5,000 homes, including a sizeable rental housing component, and a 450,000 sq ft film and television production studio. Burnaby City Council is expected to review the proposed master plan in Spring 2022.

The Willingdon Lands is well served by major regional roads, but its location and distance to the venues and facilities may not be deemed optimal.

Moreover, the ownership structure for the Willingdon Lands includes the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh, but excludes the Squamish. This would not align well with the spirit and the intent of the partnership between all three First Nations in Vancouver, especially with housing being one of the key legacy pieces of the 2030 Games.

Willingdon Lands

Proposed master plan of the Willingdon Lands in Burnaby. (MST Development Corporation/Aquilini Investment Group)

Willingdon Lands

Artistic rendering of the Willingdon Lands in Burnaby. (MST Development Corporation/Aquilini Investment Group)

For the same reason, the Senakw project, located at the southern end of the Burrard Street Bridge, is likely unsuitable as an Athletes Village. Senakw is located on the reserve of the Squamish, and the project’s implementation and operation is in partnership with Westbank. It is not part of the MST portfolio; there is no Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh involvement.

The immediate adjacency of the Senakw buildings to the bridge and the lack of buffer space due to the tight site also presents potential security issues. There were similar considerations when the 2010 Athletes Village in Southeast False Creek was being planned; an early concept for the village in Southeast False Creek placed the redevelopment on the large city-owned gravel site immediately to the east of the Cambie Street Bridge, but its footprint was later shifted east towards Quebec Street solely due to bridge-related security reasons.

“In Vancouver, obviously with the announcement on Friday with the Four Host First Nations, they have a number of projects that would fit into a possible village, and we’re just starting those discussions with them,” Tim Gayda, VANOC’s former vice-president of sport, told Daily Hive Urbanized. He is currently working with the First Nations and Canadian Olympic Committee on developing potential Games plan concepts.

“There are definitely a number of options, but it is a question of what is the right timing, and the goal would be to leave as much legacy housing as possible, particularly non-market legacy housing. I see the real legacy of the 2030 Games being on the Athletes Village side of the planning because of the housing legacy we hope to achieve.”

For the need to fulfill an Athletes Village serving the Vancouver area, Gayda says there have also been some preliminary discussions with the University of British Columbia for an on-campus location option.

Gayda adds that the Athletes Village for Whistler would also have a legacy-focused purpose to build on the success of the 2010 village in Cheakamus Crossing. After 2010, hundreds of homes in the village were converted into much-needed affordable housing for the resort’s workforce.

Whistler Olympic Village

Whistler Olympic Village during the Games. (Green Building Brain)

A decade after the 2010 Games, there is a renewed need to build more affordable housing supply to support the workers of Whistler’s tourism and hospitality-based economy. For years, a severe labour shortage in the resort has been the result of a housing supply and affordability crisis.

“Whistler is back into a place where workforce housing is needed now more than ever,” said Gayda.

“Similar to what we did in 2010, we’re in discussions with them about what their needs are, and how a potential village could play into that by providing a surge in employee housing.”

The municipal government is already looking into further expanding the Cheakamus Crossing neighbourhood to provide more affordable housing for the workforce.

During last week’s announcement, Whistler mayor Jack Crompton stated the 2010 Games had a profound legacy on his community, particularly from the fulfilment of the post-Games legacy promise for significant employee housing. He also emphasized on the possibility the 2030 Games could replenish Whistler’s affordable housing supply.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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