After almost a year of construction and lane closures on West Georgia Street, the newly redesigned North Plaza of the Vancouver Art Gallery has reopened to the public.
The space is ready just in time for its role of hosting the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival’s slate of free concerts this weekend.
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The 45,176 square feet ft² plaza has been completely rebuilt as an event-friendly space with a capacity for 1,500 people.
It is now a single flat-level area, with few physical obstructions, movable furniture, lighting towers, and power connections for event organizers to use.
The broken water fountain at the centre of the plaza has also been removed and relocated to an off-site storage space, and the entire space has been covered with a pattern of custom precast pavers giving the plaza the appearance of a web of trapezoids.
Additionally, a pavilion on the eastern end of the plaza facing Howe Street will double as both a covered bus stop and a location for food and beverage services to set-up during events.
A self-cleaning public washroom has also been installed on the southeastern corner of the plaza near Howe Street.
This design by the partnership between local firms Nick Milkovich Architects Inc., Matthew Soules Architecture, Hapa Collaborative was selected by the City of Vancouver following a public competition and consultation process.
“We settled on this design, which is really designed so that we can fit as many people as possible into the square,” said Vancouver City Councillor Heather Deal.
“It’s got everything you need, you plug and play for all kinds of different events here… Now it is a plaza where everyone can enjoy.”
Cost overruns and delays
The redesigned plaza was originally scheduled for completion in February, but this was later pushed to April and then finally to the end of June.
The municipal government says the harsh freezing conditions during the winter and the consistent rainfall during the spring are to blame for the delays. Plaza construction also had to be temporarily suspended to allow for major repairs on steam lines at the plaza’s northwest corner at the intersection of West Georgia and Howe Street.
Even with the first event scheduled to take place this weekend, the finishing touches of the plaza have not yet been completed. And many moveable furniture pieces will not be brought to the site until after the Jazz Festival’s weekend events.
Indeed finishing touches on the new plaza will not be completed until the end of July
With the delays, the cost of the project has increased to $9.6 million, which includes the 2014 replacement of the waterproof membrane protecting the Vancouver Art Gallery’s underground vault storing its vast permanent art collections.
Vancouver City Council’s allocated budget for the new plaza design, not including the new membrane, was $6.4 million. The contractor that was selected to build the new plaza had a bid budget of $5.7 million.
“A vital public space for people to come together”
While it has ample grass-covered parks, Vancouver lacks large open and paved flexible event spaces that many major cities have.
“Our BIA is a major advocate for public space and public space activations because it stimulates opportunities for people to come together and linger in space,” said Charles Gauthier, President and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.
“During our Reimagine Downtown Vancouver consultation process in 2015, people from all walks of life told us loud and clear that we need a prominent public square for large public gatherings and events.”
The plaza was first built in 1912 and has been a popular location for protests and celebrations ever since.
In recent years, it has held a number of annual events including Critical Mass, Facade Fest, Food Truck Festival, and Taiwan Fest.
Another paved civic square is envisioned for the other side of the Vancouver Art Gallery on the roadway of the 800 block of Robson Street and future foot of West Georgia Street, where it meets Pacific Boulevard, as part of the North East False Creek redevelopment.