Vancouver plans to create new cultural spaces and 400 units of artist housing

Sep 12 2019, 8:50 am

Earlier this week, Vancouver city council approved a new 10-year arts and culture strategy that includes a pillar of protecting and growing spaces for arts and culture.

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Through 2029, the municipal government now has a goal of creating, repurposing, or expanding 800,000 sq. ft. of affordable city, non-profit, and private spaces for arts and culture, including 650,000 sq. ft. of new or repurposed space, 150,000 sq. ft. of enhanced existing spaces, and 400 units of affordable artist housing.

There is also a goal to see “no net loss” in cultural spaces such as artist studios and music spaces.

Housing crisis has impacted artists greatly

A city staff report states “increasing demand for spaces through real estate speculation has resulted in distorted land values and displacement of arts and cultural activities.”

The municipal government has found that over 16 studios in industrial spaces that providing working spaces for about 300 artists have either been closed or are under threat of displacement due to skyrocketing property tax and rent increases, as well as competition with other uses and development pressure.

Metro Vancouver is also currently experiencing a severe industrial space shortage due to the growth of industrial businesses, with vacancies hovering at around 2%, which has resulted in pressure on all types of industrial spaces that were previously purposed for non-industrial uses.

825 Pacific Street Vancouver arts and culture space

Artistic rendering of the City of Vancouver’s new seven-storey, 21,000-sq-ft arts and culture hub at 825 Pacific Street in downtown. Tenancy is expected by 2021. (IBI Group / Grosvenor)

City staff reviewed property tax assessments for 11 of the studio sites, and discovered an average tax increase of more than 77% over the past five years. In one case, a studio saw a rent increase of over $60,000 per year as a result of the tax increase, while the average increase for all 11 studios over this period was $30,000.

According to the municipal government, BC has the highest number of artists in Canada, and Vancouver has the highest concentration of artists per capita. However, most artists in Vancouver are living under the poverty line; 63% see an income of less than $40,000 annually, and they have a median income of $22,000 per year.

The municipal government may also consider creating new zoning that specifically designates sites for non-profit arts and cultural facilities. Such specific zoning would simplify and align city policies, licenses, permits, bylaws, and other regulatory requirements.

Other policies to assist the arts and cultural outcomes could re-examine property taxes for these uses, and density bonus allowances to developers in exchange for new cultural spaces.

New and enhanced event venues, cultural spaces, and museums

The city owns or leases over 1.3 million sq. ft. of arts and cultural space, including 80 spaces that total 830,000 sq. ft. that provide below-market or nominal rent to about 137 artists, as well as non-profit arts and cultural tenants. This includes the city’s ownership of the Orpheum, Orpheum Annex, Playhouse, and Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and seven artist studios.

The city is currently exploring upgrades to the Playhouse, Orpheum, and Firehall Theatre.

Projects that are deemed to be underway entail 10,000 sq. ft. of artist studios to be operated by 221A with Malaspina Printmakers at Howe Street Studios, a new 21,000-sq-ft cultural hub at 825 Pacific Street, a new 200-seat community performance space and studios at the community centre for the Oakridge Centre redevelopment, and a 20,000-sq-ft music centre at the Plaza of Nations redevelopment in Northeast False Creek.

Granville Island

Highly conceptual artistic rendering of the former ECUAD north building at Granville Island converted into the Arts & Innovation Hub. (CMHC)

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which owns and operates Granville Island, intends on transforming Emily Carr University’s former north building into a 124,000-sq-ft arts and innovation hub.

The Pacific National Exhibition is in the early planning process of conducting a rebuild of its amphitheatre into a 7,000-person capacity outdoor venue, potentially with a canopy covering. But city staff want to go even further, and explore developing large outdoor spaces with event-supporting infrastructure for both amplified and non-amplified music, with spectator capacities of between 8,000 and 50,000 people.

PNE Amphitheatre

Artistic rendering of the potential “best scenario” concept for a new PNE Amphitheatre. (PNE)

There are some Vancouver districts with density bonus provisions that have benefited cultural spaces. The False Creek Flats Plan implemented a bonusing provision to support non-profit workspaces, job training programs, rehearsal space, and arts production facilities. The plan also limited certain uses and removed barriers for artist studios by maximizing allowable floor space and allowing new artist studios.

When it comes to museums, the city acknowledges that its civic museum cluster at Vanier Park is in need of a “major renewal.” This cluster includes the Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver Maritime Museum, and the HR McMillian Space Centre.

City staff have indicated they are conducting early research that will lead to a new master planning process for the Vanier Park museum cluster.

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