Vancouver City Hall, 1936
If you've ever been to Vancouver City Hall, you immediately notice two things.
First, the building is a wonderful example of art deco design. Built in the late 1930s, it was one of the most impressive edifices of its kind on the West Coast, and the first City Hall in Canada built in a city suburb (as opposed to downtown). The original master plan meant for the building to have a "twin" on the west side of Cambie, and a fabulous grand via straight up Cambie to Little Mountain.
Second, once you get past the manicured gardens, and granite exterior, you get to see the ugly side of what happens to a building built almost 75 years ago. When I worked at the Mayor's Office, we were often frequented by tiny long-tailed visitors who enjoyed munching on the occasional oreo cookie. Not surprisingly, the admin staff cringed when they walked into the kitchen every morning fearing the mouse traps set might have caught their latest victim.
My office was located on the third floor and had a spectacular view of the North Shore mountains and downtown Vancouver. However, the roof leaked, the walls had to be occasionally torn open due to bursting pipes and you simply couldn't regulate the room temperature. Needless to say, the working conditions were far from perfect. Although I did think the plush royal blue carpeting was quite nice.
At a recent event, I heard that Councillor Tim Stevenson was still pushing the idea of a new city hall building. Having first raised the concept in the last term of Council, he has been a strong advocate for what could be considered the mother of all 'shovel-ready' projects.
Stevenson's plan is to develop a new iconic city hall, likely on the property which sits due north of the existing site. The property, as luck would have it, is owned by the City of Vancouver.
The previous NPA Mayor and Council said that a new city hall wasn't a priority, but with Stevenson now part of a new Vision majority government, we're hearing the idea might be getting back on track.
Stevenson has rightfully argued the current Vancouver City Hall is simply too small to accommodate all of the 8000+ employees on one site. As a result, the city is leasing costly office space across the city to house their staff. This makes for incredible inefficiencies in the system as people are scurrying from one site to another to attend meetings across town.
In addition, the Councillor points to the growing cost of maintaining the current decaying structure vs. the cost of a new purpose-built building. Not to mention the building is not earthquake proof. Those are all good points.
We should note that Surrey's Mayor Watts is moving quickly to get a new city hall built in her city. The plan is to construct the building somewhere in the downtown area near rapid transit. Knowing Dianne, she'll find a way to make it happen.
The one wrinkle in Stevenson's plan may be the slumping economy. In good times, cities are in a much better position to use the land they own to help develop new structures that can help pay for themselves. I'm no developer, but a new building would likely cost over $100 million dollars.
In today's deflated market, it's unlikely the good councillor will find anyone wanting to partner with the City to help construct a new iconic structure in the heart of Vancouver. However, with senior levels of government looking to invest in 'shovel-ready' projects, is the idea of a new city hall still in the cards? You bet, especially if Stevenson and his colleagues move quickly.
Stevenson could easily make the case to senior levels of government that Vancouver already has the land, and the zoning power to move this quickly through the system. After all, it won't have city hall to get in the way of the project.
It should be noted that when city hall wants something done quickly, it can happen! Did you know that the current city hall was actually built in less than one year. Construction started on January 3rd, 1936 and the building officially opened on December 9. I suspect that was the result of the City Manager of the day not having to experience any construction delays due to an overzealous building inspector.
Does Vancouver need a new city hall? Most certainly. Is there money to build it? Yes, if you're creative and Council gets to work now. Can it be built quickly? Absolutely, if the construction timeline of 1936 can be replicated.
Will Stevenson be successful in his quest to build a new iconic building on his watch? He's a pretty tenacious fellow, don't count him out quite yet.