The privatization of parks is a topic that warrants significant public discussion. Who wins, who loses?What are the potential losses to the public realm when commercial uses are allowed? What value do residents gain when the City leases prime parkland for private use? How much money do these users pay back into our city’s public finances? How transparent is all of this? Can this be stopped at this point? What’s in it for us, the people of this city?
There are plans for a new privately-run restaurant in Harbour Green Park. The proposed three storey, 6,400 square foot facility would have indoor seating for 170 and outdoor seating for 128. The site is located just north of the grand stairs that connect the waterfront path to Jack Poole Plaza and West Waterfront Road.
The City of Vancouver has a issued a request for proposals (RFP) for an operator for Harbour Green Restaurant. The winner of the RFP will also be required to build the restaurant, based on a design supplied by the City. This design was approved on October 20, 2008 (under the Sam Sullivan NPA regime), hence this proposal has been in the works for quite a while. Since 2008, several restaurants have opened in the area at the Convention Centre. As well, a Cactus Club Cafe opened in 2013 on Jack Poole Plaza. There’s also an existing restaurant, the Mill Marine Bistro & Bar already located in Harbour Green Park. Is there really need for another privately-run restaurant in the area, on public land? Are there any good reasons to stop this process now? Conversely are there any good reasons that this absolutely must go ahead with this process this month?
Another issue with locating a restaurant in a waterfront park is the impact on public views — and public views are one of the top attractions bringing people from around the world for tourism and conventions. The three-storey building would block a number of views of the water from the plaza above. As well, as pedestrians will have mountain views to the north blocked as they walk down the grand stairs to the water. The wall of a 3-storey restaurant will be in the way.
The blockage of views is not a new phenomena in Vancouver; the recently-completed Cactus Club on English Bay blocked views street end views of the water. The same architects, Acton Ostry, were behind that design; this firm designed the proposed Harbour Green Park waterfront restaurant. What benefits would the public receive if this new restaurant were to go ahead? Are the trade-offs worth it? Will any of our elected officials show leadership and initiate a fresh discussion of the issues at stake?
Through a long and tortuous, convoluted journey, the Boathouse restaurant in Kitsilano Park is now run by a privately-held multinational conglomerate owned by one man; further details are in our previous post: Humble food stand on Kits Beach ends up controlled by billion-dollar private Texas company. How did this happen? (September 29, 2014) Has the City learned any of the lessons from this privatization of public land, or will they keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again? Privatization of public parks and beaches is exactly the kind of thing that recently-deceased Eleanor Hadley fought against since the 1960s. (See A tribute to Eleanor Hadley (1921 – 2015): Champion of Stanley Park, English Bay, Vancouver’s urban parks and beaches, 7-March-2015)
From previous queries by CityHallWatch, it is impossible for the public get obtain any specific detail on the revenues received from the private use of park spaces in the cases mentioned above (Cactus Club, Boathouse, etc.). Public oversight and scrutiny is impossible. How do we know our elected officials and public servants are getting us a good deal?
It may be worth noting that several restaurant firms and owners have a history of providing campaign contributions to a local political party. In 2014, Vision Vancouver received $40,000 from Keg Restaurants Ltd, while an owner of the firm, David Aisenstat donated another $100,000 as an individual.
The firms that are interested in submitting documents for the RFP need to consider a few key dates. There’s a meeting scheduled for May 12th and all firms interested in attending are required by the City to register by May 8th. Applicants are strongly encouraged to attend this meeting. The closing date for bids is June 23, 2015. Further details are available on the City’s Supply Management webpage. Additional renderings and photos of the site are included below:
Existing Restaurant in Harbour Green Park: