Vancouver's waterfront area could become "world-class" transportation hub

VANCOUVER - A new "world-class" transportation hub and a high-density extension of the downtown business district is what city planners would like to see happen at Vancouver’s central waterfront area.

With transit users frequenting the Waterfront Station area expected to nearly double with the Canada Line and a third SeaBus scheduled to operate in 2010, City of Vancouver staff will present the Central Waterfront Hub Framework report to the transportation and traffic committee on Tuesday.

The report is the outcome of a two-year study that researched what future development of the area east of Canada Place may entail and the challenges the city faces in creating a fully-integrated transportation hub.

While only a concept, the report is a glimpse of what a revitalized central waterfront may look like. City staff are recommending that council endorse the report as a guide to future planning in the area.

According to the report, the need for such a hub is evident and support from the public is strong to redevelop the area, which is mostly occupied by the Canadian Pacific Railway railyard, the Sea Bus terminal and a heliport.

The Waterfront Station building currently houses access to the West Coast Express, the SeaBus, SkyTrain and buses. According to TransLink, 50,000 people enter Waterfront Station on an average work day but with the Canada Line and a third Sea Bus close to 90,000 people are expected to be passing through the area every day.

The 42-page report shows pictures of internationally renowned transit hubs like Berlin's new Sony Center and London's St. Pancras Station as a way of visualizing how Vancouver's hub may be built.

Conceptualizations of the Vancouver transportation hub include a large passenger concourse built over top of the railyard north of the current station. The concourse, lined with trees, would be linked to the station to provide easier access to each of the road, rail, air and marine transit systems.

The concourse would have facilities like travel information, public washrooms, waiting areas, bike storage, changing facilities, luggage storage, shops, cafes and restaurants.

There are also concepts to build a new marine terminal that will house the SeaBus and future passenger ferries. A new permanent heliport is also conceptualized at the hub. Large walkways would connect the concourse with all of the different transit stations and Canada Place.

The plan calls for an extension of Granville Street closer to Burrard Inlet. There would also be a connector street a block east from Cordova Street to the water. Another road would run along the waterfront and connect both streets to Howe Street. They would all be elevated above the railyard and would presumably allow easier access to buses.

Surrounding the transportation hub, just in front of the marine terminal, there may be several commercial and mixed-use highrises as an extension of the downtown business district.

“The framework area should emphasize non-residential job space,” as a way of increasing “employment capacity” in downtown, states the report.

Also, more open spaces with views of the mountains would be created to attract people to the waterfront. The new space would also compensate for the likely destruction of part of Granville Square plaza.

The report notes a number of problems with the development site at the moment.

One of the problems city councillor David Cadman is most worried about is the fact that the hub and highrises would be built over a railyard where hazardous materials are held in rail containers.

“As long as we have that issue it’s hard to see a development over those rail lines. I think that’s the biggest road block.” Cadman said.

“The issue of emergency access becomes a huge issue,” since the rail lines will be covered.

Cadman added that the entire concept may be before its time as there are other areas of downtown Vancouver that could be developed, like the northeast part of False Creek.

There are also complex engineering and technical issues of building on top of a railyard and any rail capacity lost due to building support columns would need to be replaced according to a development clause CPR has with the developer. There is space to the north of the railyard, according to the report, but such space is already earmarked for future capacity growth.

The railyard is currently owned by the Vancouver Whitecaps soccer club.

Building a waterfront stadium for the Whitecaps has been a central element in the past when considering the area's development. But after problems arose between the port authority, a federal body, and the club, the stadium proposal fell through.

While the current conceptual framework by city staff doesn't include a stadium, it remains open to integrating a new stadium proposal and considers land where the current heliport is as a viable place for it to be built.

Of course, the city's concept rests on the assumption it will be able to wrangle up support from the property's land owners and then find a "consortium" of developers.

For instance, extending Granville Street will mean bulldozing part of a parking lot owned by Ontrea Inc. (managed by Cadillac Fairview Corporation Ltd.), which owns the adjacent Granville Square. The report indicates the company isn't keen on the idea.

However, the report also states that landowners, although not having committed to anything, have shown general interest in the concepts proposed.

No total cost can be estimated for the development. The framework suggests more than one developer will need to take part in the waterfront’s revitalization and that all levels of government will need to be involved.

“The next stages of work for the framework area will need to include investigation of potential city, provincial and federal sources of support and funding for development, as well as discussions involving landowners and [the three levels of government, CPR, and TransLink],” the report concluded.

gwood@vancouversun.com

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