Opinion: New St. Paul's Hospital campus will revitalize Vancouver's Chinatown

Nov 19 2019, 5:59 pm

With Vancouver city council’s approval earlier this month of the rezoning application for the new St. Paul’s Hospital campus at the northwest corner of the False Creek Flats, there is now a firmer picture of how the massive new hospital will look like and how it will fit in the area.

The positive economic impact to the immediate area will be immense, especially for Vancouver’s struggling Chinatown district, bordering right on the sprawling hospital’s northern boundary.

Almost overnight, when the hospital opens in 2026, it will become the largest new source of employment in a two-kilometre radius, surely providing Chinatown with a much-needed jolt for its revitalization.

New St. Paul's Hospital

Site of the new St. Paul’s Hospital and health campus at the False Creek Flats. (IBI Group Architects / Providence Healthcare)

It is important to recognize this is not only an expanded and improved hospital facility for St. Paul’s spanning 1.68 million sq. ft. of floor area, but it’s also a broader health campus with 600,000 sq. ft. of medical office and research space.

The scale and scope of the project at full buildout on this 18.4-acre lot is significantly larger than the hospital’s existing location on a 6.5-acre lot at 1081 Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver’s West End.

New St. Paul's Hospital

Artistic rendering of the new St. Paul’s Hospital and health campus at the False Creek Flats. (IBI Group Architects / Providence Healthcare)

According to city planning documents, based on Providence Healthcare’s estimates, the new hospital campus will employ over 10,000 people by 2041 when all phases of the campus are complete.

Contrast this figure with Providence Healthcare’s current total workforce size entailing about 6,700 staff at last count in 2018 — spread over a number of healthcare facilities across the city, but mainly centred at the existing St. Paul’s Hospital and to a lesser extent Mount St. Joseph Hospital. This does not include the hundreds of volunteers and researchers, who are mainly based at St. Paul’s.

Moreover, St. Paul’s is far from being just a local-serving hospital, as it has provincial-level functions and departments, including for heart and lung care, renal, eating disorders, and specialty surgeries and transplants.

About 40% of the hospital’s visitors are from outside of Vancouver. It serves 174,000 patients annually, totalling 500,000 visits per year, and that does not include the visitation from supportive family and friends.

Later phases of the campus will add 45,000 sq. ft. of retail and restaurant space, 140,000 sq. ft. of hotel space, and 71,000 sq. ft. of rental housing for healthcare workers.

Vancouver’s Chinatown. (Michael Kwan / Flickr)

This, altogether, is an incredible volume of foot traffic that will certainly spill out into the streets of Chinatown, supporting the district’s cafes, restaurants, shops, and services — a constant and predictable flow of patronage, in the same way that the employees and visitors of St. Paul’s on Burrard Street have supported businesses on Davie Street and Burrard Street for decades.

The activity generated by the new St. Paul’s could offset not only the Downtown Eastside’s creeping negative realm of influence on Chinatown, but also city council’s 2018 decision limiting height and building width development possibilities in the area, which reversed previously established policies that were designed to catalyze revitalization.

The hospital campus’ realm of economic influence could have an exponentially greater positive impact on Chinatown than all of the recently-implemented municipal and provincial strategies imagined to preserve and restore the area, specifically the investments towards grassroots community organizations, the effort to achieve a UNESCO World Heritage site designation for the district, and the proposed museum highlighting the contributions of Chinese Canadians.

And when combined with the hospital campus, there could be synergies from the new residential and commercial density planned for the eventual redevelopments in Northeast False Creek (NEFC), which currently depend on the demolition of the Dunsmuir and Georgia viaducts.

The two city-owned blocks immediately south of Chinatown — south of Union Street between Quebec Street and Gore Avenue, currently occupied by the viaducts — are set for dense residential development, with additional retail and institutional space in the base. This is further supported by significant public realm improvements, including a large public space on the eastern block that reestablishes Hogan’s Alley.

Potential architectural concept on the two city-owned blocks currently occupied by the viaducts, framed by Union Street to the north, Quebec Street to the west, Gore Avenue to the east, and the future Pacific Boulevard extension to the south. Main Street separates the two blocks. The new St. Paul’s Hospital will be immediately south of the new Hogan’s Alley. (City of Vancouver)

New St. Paul's Hospital

The location of the existing St. Paul’s Hospital on the edge of downtown Vancouver’s West End and the location of the new facility in the False Creek Flats. (City of Vancouver)

Of course, Chinatown’s gain is also the West End’s loss.

The existing hospital site is to be sold to developers to help cover the cost of constructing the $1.9-billion first phase of the hospital. The Burrard Street property’s size and prime location could fetch a price approaching $1 billion for its redevelopment potential in the heart of the city core.

Based on the city’s West End Community Plan, towers up to 550 ft can be built on the hospital site, but only if view cone height restrictions are not enforced.

It is far too early to speculate on whether there will be a major commercial office component to the redevelopment, which would provide some foot traffic to the area, neutralizing some of the losses from the hospital’s relocation after the years-long void of demolition and construction. But it is almost guaranteed there will be a dense market residential component, given the expected value of the deal for the property.

Some of the hotels next to the hospital, such as the Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre, Century Plaza Hotel and Spa, and the Burrard Inn, will see a shift in their patronage when the hospital closes.

A not insignificant proportion of their clientele are hospital visitors, but continued strong tourism in downtown Vancouver and a shortage in hotel room supply could fill in the losses. The latter two hotel properties could also be eyed for redevelopment in the not too distant future, given the age of the buildings and the potential catalyzing impact of the adjacent St. Paul’s redevelopment.

St. Paul's Hospital

The Burrard Street heritage frontage of St. Paul’s Hospital. (Shutterstock)