Tearing down vacant ORS to create $16.5 million for housing


Bonnis Properties wants to redevelop nearly the entire block of Granville Street that includes the State Hotel

Interesting consulting session on Tuesday evening regarding Bonnis Properties’ plan to redevelop almost an entire block of Granville Street between Smithe and Robson streets.

You may have already read some of the media coverage of the proposal to construct a massive 16-story commercial building along the same block that includes the iconic Commodore Ballroom and four other historic buildings.

Renders show a glass-heavy terraced design, which gives off a cruise-ship-like vibe.

While the building itself grabs all the attention, it’s the single-occupancy State Hotel adjacent to the Commodore that has puzzled several councilors and how it fits or doesn’t fit into the redevelopment.

I will detail further down the page.

Bonnis Properties has moved a step closer to redeveloping almost an entire block of Granville Street after council asked staff to work with the company to move the project forward. Courtesy of Perkins&Will

First, some background on what the city’s planning director, Theresa O’Donnell, described Tuesday as a “complicated” proposal.

Yes, it’s complicated, but it’s also controversial for several reasons, not the least of which is the scale and mass of the building, which is said to reach a height of 260 feet and soar above the strip of buildings. predominantly low and medium. .

City staff aren’t crazy about the project, saying as much in a report to council.

“If development of this magnitude were permitted, the historic character of a fine-grained urban streetscape as well as its pedestrian sense of place found on Granville Street could be permanently lost,” the report states.

Staff pointed out that the proposal “significantly deviates” from the city’s heritage policies, single room by-laws and height and form provisions of the official downtown development plan.

Cameron block

Additionally, the 1910-built State Hall and three other historic buildings — the Service Building, Cameron Block, and Clancy Building — would be demolished except for their main facades, which staff say will not be demolished. is not an acceptable custodial practice and does not comply with applicable heritage policies. .

That said, an enthusiastic council decided on Tuesday that they wanted staff to see what they could do to resolve the problems with the proposal and then bring back a report of dismissal. It would then be up to council to decide whether the rezoning application should proceed to a public hearing.

“Following council’s decision, staff will now conduct a full rezoning review,” the city’s communications department said in an email. “This will include consultation with the public and the Urban Design Committee, as well as assessing aspects of the development that council has included in an amendment to the report staff recommendation.”

Now on to the State Hall…

It’s a 73-bedroom SRO and has been vacant for at least 50 years, according to Kerry Bonnis, who operates Bonnis Properties with her brother Dino, and spoke to council on Tuesday.

Bonnis said the hotel was damaged by fire in the 1970s and when the brothers took it over some 22 years ago it was in poor condition and unlivable.

“There were over a thousand pigeon carcasses, it was infested with rats and, in fact, we had to do some hazmat work to get it all out,” he said. “There were no kitchens, no toilets, nothing.”

“Absolutely Rejected”

The brothers approached the city soon after the purchase to renovate the hotel into affordable housing. But Bonnis said “our request was denied outright”, with the planner at the time saying no new residences could be built in the Entertainment District.

Now Bonnis wants to keep the facade but tear down the rest of the building to help expand the Commodore, which the brothers own. The idea is to add freight and full-size elevators and a loading area to the hotel site and connect it to the Commodore.

The same would be done for the building on the north side of the Commodore, but include a space large enough for transport trucks containing music equipment to park. Parking for the public and bicycles would also be added.

The development would allow the Commodore’s lobby to increase in size.

“This would give the infrastructure for the Commodore to operate for years to come, and also provide increased wheelchair access to the Commodore bowling alley,” he said. “There are a lot of seniors bowling, and we need those elevators.”

$16.5 million for affordable housing

Bonnis said in an interview on Friday that adding such infrastructure would reduce set-up time for bands and attract more musical acts, noting that the Commodore only has a small elevator and the equipment must also be taken up the stairs.

But if Bonnis wants to demolish the hotel, the city’s single room accommodation regulations come into play. Whether that should apply is an open question because the rooms have been vacant for 50 years and, as mentioned a few sentences ago, the city would not allow a renovation for affordable housing.

Either way, Bonnis said he would pay at least $230,000 for each room lost, as per the settlement. Bonnis said that promise, however, will only be fulfilled if there is no change in the density required to build the new development, which includes 400,000 square feet of office space.

The quick math on that is about $16.5 million for city coffers, what the council. Jean Swanson said it could be used to support the city’s ORS acquisition and renovation strategy.

Bonnis also told the adviser. Sarah Kirby-Yung that he was willing to consider adding a new musical space to the development – again, he stressed, as long as there is no change in the density of the project , which would include restaurants, retail and an outdoor promenade that overlooks Rue Granville.

“It would just be tragic”

Live Nation currently operates the Commodore, and Bonnis said the company told him the ballroom was expensive to operate and “labour-intensive,” with equipment having to be loaded up the stairs.

“They’ve approached us over the past two-plus decades to say, ‘Hey, can we do something on the sides of the building to make it economical,'” he said.

“They always told me that there were risks and that the operation might no longer be viable. We are not the operators. I can’t speak specifically, but I’m just relaying what our tenant told us. And, I mean, that would just be tragic.

The design of the new building requires what architect Ryan Bragg described as a bridge to be built over the Commodore to protect it. Conserving and protecting the Commodore was the impetus behind the redevelopment proposal.

“We recognize that the Commodore has greater value than anything else on the block, and there are many reasons for that – it has architectural merit, but it also has enormous cultural heritage,” Bragg said.

“That cultural heritage is both within the entertainment community, but also within the LGBTQ community, and it’s part of who we are as Vancouverites.”

‘Tilt the street in another direction’

Bonnis also spoke about the deterioration of the Granville strip, saying they “badly need an injection of energy”; Council heard from Nolan Marshall of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association that Granville Street’s vacancy rate is double that of the rest of downtown, with one in four storefronts currently idle.

“Unfortunately, a declining downtown theater and entertainment district is not unique, but what is unique and rare are private developers willing to initiate the process of revitalization without any public subsidy,” said said Marshall.

“Leaders in other inner cities would fall in love with a project like this. Believe me, it gets harder, not easier, if we don’t act now to swing the street in a different direction.

Will the development ever get the green light?

“Unfortunately, this is not in our hands,” Bonnis said Friday. “It’s in the hands of the city management, the planning department and the council. Hopefully these three groups can see how important this is to really building momentum for change, transformation and revitalization in Granville.

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