Many factors determine the fate of precious buildings in any city. Sometimes they seem rather capricious. What can be done to ensure more certainty in protecting what communities value? Consider these examples, past and present.
The Rio Theatre was built in 1938. Despite its age and importance as a cultural facility, the Rio does not appear in the Vancouver Heritage Register. In theory, there would be nothing to stop the building from being torn down and redeveloped. It’s fortunate that the present day owners and the operator intend to keep the Rio open and functioning as a theatre for the foreseeable future. However, could more action be taken proactively to protect theatres and similar cultural facilities throughout the city?
On November 6th, 2013, a temporary 75-day order to protect the Hollywood Theatre was passed by Council. An open question is whether the conversion to a fitness studio will occur after this protection expires. On Wednesday, December 4th, Council will be considering a Heritage report; speakers will be heard after 2pm. One of the items in the report is to update the Heritage Register. However, placing a building on the register does not confer protection; rather, protection is done through a heritage designation.
The first draft of the landuse map for the Grandview Woodland Plan showed a mixed use zoning for a 10-storey building on site of the Rio Theatre at 1660 East Broadway (this draft is subject to revision). The current Central Broadway C-3A zoning bylaws allows for 6-storey mixed use development on this site with a FSR of 3.0. If a future owner decided to sell an unprotected cultural asset (such as the Rio), there are limits to what the City can current do to prevent the demolition of a building.
The Vancouver East Cultural Centre (The Cultch), in contrast, is a protected Heritage Building. The old building (a former Methodist Church) was restored in the course of a substantial $23 million investment. Is there an effective way to protect more of Vancouver’s valuable cultural assets for future generations?
The City seems to have capricious response based on the intensity of the public response and the power of the financial interests involved. Is this fair?
Saint James Community Square in Kitsilano was saved and today plays a huge role as a popular meeting place, concert/event venue, and centre for many community services.
In contrast, St. John’s Church at 1401 Comox (now 1061 Broughton) in the West End was demolished in 2012 despite strong efforts (see “Death by a Thousand Cuts” video for a famous artist’s efforts — Tiko Kerr) to save it for community use — culture, arts, daycare, seniors facility, community centre, etc. In this case, the City rejected community requests to look into options to save the 30-year-old building. Instead a special deal was made with Westbank to build a 22-storey tower, out of character of the neighbourhood, under the generous developer-incentive STIR program. Below are photos of the church that once was, and recent photo.