Downtown Vancouver residential boom creates need for services, amenities

Vancouver Sun, July 15, 2014

New Downtown South neighbourhood lacks food shopping, family dining options.

One of Vancouver’s fastest-changing neighbourhoods is facing a dearth of services and amenities amid a boom of residential tower construction, say residents, developers and other stakeholders in the city’s Downtown South.

The roughly six-block section of Downtown South wedged between Howe and Seymour streets near the Granville Street Bridge has arguably undergone one of the city’s most dramatic transformations. There are roughly eight recently completed or proposed residential buildings that will both alter the skyline and draw in thousands of new residents.

Among the new buildings will be Westbank’s 52-storey Vancouver House, with its 407 condominiums and 95 rental apartments. The new tower is under pre-construction and due for completion in 2018.

Mike Orchison and Lilian Yan moved into the recently completed Maddox Downtown at Drake and Howe streets in April with their 12-year-old son. They had been living in Yaletown, but made the slight shift west after they found a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in the development by Cressey.

The couple said they were attracted to the neighbourhood because condo prices were a little lower than in Yaletown and there were several new buildings to choose from. They quickly discovered, however, that the area lacks shopping, dining and service options.

“Now that we’re living there we’re really starting to feel that there is something missing as far as the downtown lifestyle that we can enjoy with a family,” Orchison said in an interview.

In Yaletown, almost all of the restaurants were family friendly, he said. “And Granville South, well, it’s [only] the Subway [restaurant] that allows kids. Most of them are just bars and they’re not kid friendly.”

Yan and Orchison said this particular pocket of Downtown South could also use a new grocery store, more family friendly entertainment and new shopping options.

“Grocery wise, in Yaletown there is an Urban Fare that was one block away from us,” Yan said. “In south Granville there is no real grocery store, except for a corner store. That’s a bit of an inconvenience.”

Charles Gauthier, President and CEO of the Downtown Business Improvement Association said the association raised that same issue with city officials just weeks ago. He said the experiment of including small commercial spaces in the podiums of residential towers in the area has failed to generate a diverse set of amenities for what is quickly becoming a very densely populated corner of the city.

“We think that [the city’s] policy of trying to encourage that kind of retail, or commercial activations, at the base level of residences along Howe and Seymour may not have been the most successful strategy,” Gauthier said, adding that the solution may be found in turning the south end of Granville into more of a traditional shopping district with larger commercial spaces.

He said the area needs more day-to-day amenities and services. “It could be a dry-cleaner, it could be a hairdresser, the barber shop, that kind of thing.”

The boom in residential development in the area has created an “instant consumer base,” he said, adding that wise business operators would be looking now for space in the area.

Most of the new residents in Downtown South are young people, he added. “When we had that planning meeting with the city a couple of weeks ago they identified that it’s a 20-to-39-year-old demographic, rather than a much older demographic that you see in the West End.”

Cressey Development Group first purchased the land for the Maddox building in 2007. Executive vice-president Hani Lammam said he’s witnessed the neighbourhood change dramatically since then.

“I would suggest that it is one of the last precincts of downtown that wasn’t developed, and now all the available sites are taking shape,” he said.

“The residential towers get built and then the commercial tenants try to find space to support them,” he said. “In many locations, there wasn’t enough space built to accommodate the future commercial space demand.”

He agreed that residents in the area need another food store plus more restaurants and services so that people don’t have to jump in their car or a taxi to get what they need.

“You shouldn’t have to do that,” he said. “That’s the whole point.”

There is no question that the demand for new and different businesses is increasing, he said. “Whoever gets their foot in the door first and establishes their customer base, they’re going to have the advantage.”