The following is an excerpt from my final research project in the SFU Urban Studies program. If you’re interested in Main Street Skytrain Station, the neighbourhood around it, or the history of land-use planning policies in eastern False Creek, you’ll love this series!
While O&K Tract Developments had originally planned to develop the land around the station site, they sold the property in 1983 to Newco Investment Corporation. Gerry Olma (of O&K) was retained by Newco to manage a new development proposal next to the station.
A memorandum dated 13 January 1984, from Associate Director of Planning, J.T. Carline, to Mayor and Council, clarified that the original payment deal from 1982 still existed. The fee was intended to be used by BC Transit (formerly the Urban Transit Authority) to improve integration with the adjacent development and other “improvements for the public good”, but it would in fact only be generated by a site area that was two-thirds the size of the total development site, or 500,000 square feet.
Based on the development being proposed by the new property owners, the likely payment would be around $1 million. Mr. Carline suggested that this money could be used to build a pedestrian overpass from the station to City-owned property west of Quebec Street (see image below), although BC Transit was under no obligation to spend the entire development fee on the station and budgetary concerns would likely prevent such an overpass coming to fruition.
Newco’s plan was for an integrated development with the station that would be completed in time for Expo 86. Because of this extremely tight timeline, City Council had granted a variance in development processing that allowed their proposal to be heard at the same time that work on a policy plan and rezoning was occurring (more on this City planning process later in the series). At the 26 January 1984 meeting of the Planning and Development Committee, Mr. Paul Merrick of Chandler Kennedy Architectural Group, project architects, presented the mixed use development plan that would be integrated with the station.
It was to include a 356 room hotel with convention facilities, 250,000 square feet of office space, 94,000 square feet of retail space, 162,000 square feet of residential apartments and 30,000 square feet of recreational and social amenities. In total, the project would reach the maximum FSR for the site which was 5.0, according to Mr. Carline.
At the presentation of the development proposal, Mr. Merrick “advised that as this project would become part of the ALRT station, it would be a gateway to False Creek and the downtown core from the east” in addition, “the proposal would act as a catalyst to further developments in the district” (Report to Council, 1984).
The following images were graciously dug up by Elmee Baterina at Merrick Architecture. Unfortunately, it was too late to include them in my research project, however, they are a fascinating record of the development proposal for Main Street Station in the “pre-Expo” context of Vancouver.
The development never proceeded, and curiously, I still have not figured out definitively why it didn’t. Some reasons might include the tight timeline for construction, poor economic conditions, or compatibility/desireability of adjacent industrial uses (e.g. the LaFarge Concrete plant) – but I did not find any specific evidence.
This proposal is remarkable in a couple of ways. It would have been the first, truly integrated housing and commercial development with a rapid transit station in the lower mainland. In 1984, the theory of transit-oriented development (TOD) had not gained the mainstream understanding it has now, and this project would have pioneered the concept of transit-oriented, mixed-use development.
It is also remarkable in its design and the balance of uses that were being proposed: primarily office and retail space. By the late 1980s and into the next decade, office construction was being abandoned by developers and the city in favour of residential condominiums. Not only did this proposal have a high percentage of office space, its design did not reflect the direction planners were heading, which was the podium and tower typology. The pre and post-Expo period was a significant turning point in the Vancouver planning paradigm, and the eventual start of the City Gate development in 1990 represented the beginning of this new paradigm.