What’s Happening in Vancouver’s “Entertainment District” Crosstown?

Susan M Boyce
July 28, 2015

It’s where five of Vancouver’s favourite neighbourhoods rub shoulders – the convergence of Yaletown, Gastown, Chinatown, False Creek and downtown. Yet despite its unique waterfront setting, Crosstown has as yet never developed a clear sense of identity.

True, sporting and cultural events like the Stanley Cup, Cirque du Soleil or rock concerts attract big crowds to BC Place and Roger’s Arena… but few of those fans remain after the final curtain call or shoot-out. Eager Costco customers seldom hang around once they’ve filled their shopping carts with bargains. Even the siren call of Lady Luck at the Edgewater Casino isn’t enough to keep a consistent pulse to this enigmatic waterfront neighbourhood.

However, over the past few years, change is definitely in the air. And Kevin Hoffman, senior vice-president of the Aquilini Group, is one of the many industry insiders who are excited that, after well over three decades, Crosstown is finally finding its stride as the city’s sports and entertainment district.

Mixed-Use and Resort Development

The company has already completed Aquilini Centre West, a 26-storey tower that connects directly to the Rogers Arena concourse and is the first of three purpose-built rental buildings with lower-level retail and commercial components. The south tower has broken ground, and the east tower, which will rise above the location of the current Canucks Store and give enhanced access to the stadium, is expected to be underway soon. Hoffman also notes there is a strong possibility of a fourth tower, although there are no details yet available.  

Poised to become a neighbourhood highlight is Parq Vancouver, a $600 million joint venture between Paragon Development Ltd., Dundee Corporation, and PBC VUR Limited Partnership. Laying claim to becoming the province’s largest private development, this 62,000-square-foot “urban resort” will be located adjacent to BC Place Stadium and will feature meetings, conference and special event space – including Vancouver’s largest ballroom. In addition to being the new home of the popular Edgewater Casino, it will house two luxury hotels – BC’s first JW Marriott hotel (288 guest rooms and 41 suites) and a Marriott International Autograph Collection hotel named The Douglas (178 rooms and 10 suites) – making it the city’s largest hotel convention facility. And more than 1,000 much-needed new stalls will increase parking options at BC Place.

A Viaduct-Free Vision

Causing a flurry of excitement is Vancouver’s anticipated decision to remove the Dunsmuir and Georgia Street viaducts. Brian Jackson, general manager of planning and development services with the City of Vancouver, says that after an intensive two-year study, the process could receive final approval to move forward in September. “We are meeting weekly with Concord Pacific to work out details for the new road system and other infrastructure.”

With 43,000 vehicles per day using the viaducts, city staff have completed what Kevin McNaney, the city’s assistant director of planning, describes as “extensive transportation modeling” –studying turns, signal systems and where the traffic originates – to ensure traffic chaos wouldn’t ensue without the elevated roadways.

McNaney told REW.ca’s sister publication Vancouver Courier, “We’ve really done the detailed work and sunk our teeth into the transportation network, and it shows that it’s actually a better transportation system.”

The City’s post-viaduct vision is an ambitious one. “Once the viaduct is removed, we will be able to take Georgia Street down to grade at Pacific,” Jackson explains. “It will open up the entire area and will allow us to create a ceremonial street giving water-to-water access from False Creek to Lost Lagoon.” He also anticipates a Fisherman’s Wharf-style dock and boardwalk filled with a diverse array of restaurants and boutique retail.

Plans to create a nine-acre park along the edge of the Concord Pacific lands have expanded, and Jackson says he now thinks the public park will be at least 12 acres and will connect to the existing park on the north. He also stresses that while the current skateboard park under the viaduct may be relocated, the City has no plans to eliminate what he describes as a “treasured, much-used community amenity.”

Rising from the Ground

Although Concord Pacific declined to reveal details about its lands, there’s no question this well-respected developer will remain an integral part of the fabric of this new district. One Pacific’s eye-catching, ocean-wave facade is now easily viewable as the 435-unit, 21-storey luxury condo building continues to rise out the ground between Cambie Bridge and BC Place – an iconic harbinger of the estimated $1.3 billion of development the company is expected to invest by the time it has built out the massive masterplanned community here.

The next phase of that will be Arc Vancouver, the developer’s pair of 28- and 30-storey buildings to be built opposite One Pacific at 998 Expo Boulevard, at the northwest end of the Cambie Bridge. The James Cheng-designed multicoloured towers will rise from two- and five-storey podiums and will contain 620 residential units. Three three-storey “skybridges” connecting the two towers will also contain apartment units.

A plaza will run underneath the Cambie Bridge and offer a pedestrian link between Arc Vancouver and One Pacific, joining the developments together in a $1.3 billion new residential and retail community, sparking 15,000 construction jobs and 2,000 post-construction jobs in the neighbourhood.

“I see the same kind of untapped potential in Crosstown that existed in Yaletown when it was just a few towers and the Roundhouse,” Hoffman says. “Vancouver is known for its ability to successfully create neighbourhoods with a mix of housing types, and that’s what’s happening now in Crosstown. In 10 to 12 years, I believe this will be one of Vancouver’s most diverse, lively and sought-after communities.”

Susan M Boyce
Susan M Boyce is a Vancouver-based freelance writer specializing in real estate and residential development. She has co-authored four books on writing and business and is a regular contributor to REW.ca and Real Estate Weekly newspaper.