City installs expensive boiler system just prior to Bloedel closure

Post by Daniel Fontaine in

19 comments

Bloedel Conservatory
Grey skies over Bloedel Conservatory didn't discourage hundreds of visitors from around the world from touring on Sunday

With the Christmas and New Year holidays now all but wrapped up, our family decided we would head into Vancouver and try out something old and something new. During the first part of the day, we packed up the ice skates and headed down to the new GE Plaza at Robson Square. I'll have more to report on this facility later this week, but I am pleased to report it appears to be a smashing success.

Later in the day, we decided to pay a visit to the Bloedel Conservatory before Vision finally gives it the axe in a few months. To my amazement, there was a line-up to get in and the place was packed with visitors from around the world. If you believed everything Mayor Gregor Robertson was spinning out there, you would assume the place was a virtual ghost town. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are posters, memos and other "Save the Bloedel" materials pasted throughout the facility which is helping to galvanize support for the conservatory. I just happened to walk by one of the front counter staff who was in the midst of a phone conversation with what appeared to be her supervisor. She was telling him/her that she was being bombarded with questions from patrons regarding how much money had already been raised to save the Bloedel. She said that dozens of patrons wanted to take away "Save the Bloedel" posters to put up in their work place, but she had run out of materials to hand out.

On the way out of the building, I checked out the guest registry which was signed by people from around the world. On the last page there were several visitors who indicated their place of origin was from as far away as Singapore, India and Israel. Every departing guest patiently stood in line to write a comment, and some of them had an overtly political tone to them. One Vancouver resident wrote:

I can't believe I voted Vision...

That comment was squeezed in between three others that read:

Don't close. It's a treasure.

I love it!

Please keep it open. 

We can also report that a concerned Park Board employee contacted CityCaucus.com over the weekend to indicate they were shocked that Vision planned to "shut down the Bloedel after they just invested over $1 million dollars to put in a new boiler system".

According to our source, the City of Vancouver spent the better part of last fall installing the new infrastructure at the conservatory to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Our research indicates a report did come before council in 2007 requesting $392,236 in funding be provided to a company known as Ameresco Canada Inc. to install a new boiler system.

The 2007 staff report indicates the installation of the new boiler would pay for itself over the long-term through reduced energy costs. However, now that Vision is about to shut the building down, this is basically money thrown down the drain. I guess you could argue the city will recover their energy costs since they plan on shutting off the heat permanently in April.

NPA Park Board Commissioner Ian Robertson was on CKNW radio today indicating that the attendance for the Bloedel in December 2009 was triple what it was the same time last year. Based on how many people were there this afternoon, I have no doubt those numbers are accurate.

Vision is clearly hoping this issue fades away like the Mayor's Mexican suntan, but I for one think it won't. This is on a slow burner and I suspect the heat is about to be turned up big time over the coming months. As they say in politics, this could become a "sleeper issue".

Our family really enjoyed the Bloedel and we plan to visit again, assuming they can find the private sector sponsors they need to survive. In case that doesn't happen, we took one last family photo in front of the exotic Indian fig tree as a memento.

19 Comments

The party should rename themselves "Hallucination Vancouver". They are very out of touch with Vancouver and Vancouverites sensibilities.

The thought of closing this facility is a travesty. Keep digging. You will come to the hidden agendas which are the real reason for this ridiculous decision.
Why would a council committed to the public sector privatize a city landmark?

You are right Daniel. The Bloedel is a gem and has for a long time been a good tourist attraction. The Canada Line construction interrupted the flow of visitors for two years, but that is now over and done with. It is foolish to shut that place.

When the Bloedel is closed the birds will have to be caught and caged, the resulting mortality rate through stress is likely to be high. It will be interesting to see how Vision spins that.

They'll need to take some Happy Planet Energy+ Health Shots to Boost Stamina and Focus.

Join up at friendsofthebloedel.ca

I'm confused to see this comment from L.F.R.: "Why would a council committed to the public sector privatize a city landmark?"
What in the actions of Vision have we seen that shows a commitment to the public sector? The significant decisions I have seen, particularly related to budgets and development, have all been directed to benefit the private sector through the erosion of the public sector and expense to the public.
There may be more news that will come out regarding the timing of the conservatory-closure decision, but my general sense is that it's simply a matter of poor planning and a failure to evalute the lost opportunity costs.

so , does one month of oustanding support make the other 11 months of poor attendance go away?

It suggests that the end of construction on Cambie combined with active promotion of the Conservatory create a very different financial picture to that used by the Parks Board to justify closure.

Dec 2008 revenue $12,193
Dec 2009 revenue $40,326

Westender, you ask why I would call the the current Vision Council committed to the public sector.
I say that because that is what they said when they were running in the last election.
That is what the last strike in Vancouver was all about. The wages had been predetermined by the settlement in Richmond. The reason the labor stoppage occurred was to take on and get rid of Sam Sullivan.
This strike galvanized the anti-Sam forces and brought in the results we saw.
It seems as though this Council is turning its back on the very people who payed the price to get them elected.
The closure and privatization of the Bloedel doesn't make sense. At least not from that perspective.
The real reasons will become apparent.


Have to agree with you, this doesn't pass the sniff test.... there is more to this than meets the eye.

Yes, there are great attendance number now, but where were all these people in the previous years? The Bloedel closure was not based on last years numbers alone, but based on a number of years which the Bloedel has lost money. You might say, well the numbers are here now. And I would agree with you, but will the same numbers be here for next year? Or the year after that? Or the year after that? I think the reasoning behind the closure is because the business is not sustainable. Number are good now, because people are aware it's going to be closed soon and some people want to see it one last time before it's gone.

I know my comments may not be popular here, but ask yourself what you think the attendance numbers would be if the Bloedel was not going to be closed?

Park Board Commissioner Iain Robertson was just on CKNW News. He verified and added to the story that you broke regarding expenditures at the Bloedel.
He stated that the Park Board had recently spent a million bucks to upgrade the Conservatory.
He mentioned issues such as infrastructure and greenhouse gasses.
He too, stated that the closure made no sense.
Could your blog please provide the text of the News item. It shows you how absurd this decision is.

Then I think, Red, we need to close Queen Elizabeth Park too...it doesn't make money either.
In my world of reasonable taxes and public facilities, there is merit in subsidizing community resources that have value - and the conservatory is one of these resources. Vision doesn't seem to agree.
And thank you L.F.R. for clarifying your comment. I agree that Vision is not behaving in a manner that reflects their election promises to the public.

When the public feel they are about to lose a facility they rally and attend. It happened with the PNE and now with Blodel. The question is will these numbers be sustained over time or is it simply short term concern?

@Westender

I think you are missing the point. The point is whether or not there has been public use. If nobody used QE Park, then they should probably close it and change the use. However, QE Park is one of the most popular parks in all of Vancouver. Yet the Bloedel Conservatory was rarely used by anybody who went to QE Park despite that fact it's right in the middle of QE Park, that is up until now.

It's not about making money. It's about losing money on something that very few people used. Again, I'll say, the current numbers would support the continued operation of the Bloedel Conservatory, but the question I ask is if it's going to be sustainable or if it's just a fad.

Red should perhaps look a bit further into the ? of financial sustainability. He will find that Bloedel has historically made money until recent years when, due to staff reorganization the position of Bloedel curator was eliminated, resulting in dedicated staff but, not with the depth of horticultural knowledge of previous staff. This together with insufficient marketing & the reservoir deck renewal started in 2002 & the RAV line completed last year has gotten us to where we are now financially. There is unanimous agreement amongst former Parks Commissioners from TEAM, Cope & NPA that the closure decision is the wrong thing to do for both Bloedel & the Children's Farmyard. These keystone parks & recreation facilities can be revitalized, improved & become even better & more relevant. Watch for more to come in this regard. Vision is painting themselves into a corner. There is still a way out. I hope they have the courage to take it.

The fact is parks and park board facilities are all subsidized only 40% of PB revenue comes from admissions rentals etc.The Bloedel actually gets less of a subsidy on a % basis than most other facilities.It is a Heritage building and a horticultural,architectural and natural jewel at the pinacle of our city.Like any facility it needs more marketing that the present PB is willing to provide.Check out the Eden project in England 2 domes and a quarry they have just built what we have had here for 40 years it cost approx 35 dollars admission Wake up Vision Vancouver lets really go green and save the Bloedel

The problem for Vision is that most voters don't regard this subsidy as "losing money" but rather as the affordable cost of sustaining an important part of the quality of life in Vancouver. If the subsidy is shown to be even less than was thought, say equal to the cost of refurbishing the Mayor's office, the current policy starts to look like pig headedness at best.

If the Bloedel is not saved by private money, time for this being very short, and if the issue proves to have legs then Vision has to choose from two scenarios at the next election.

The first might be Gregor smiling as he pets a fluffy bunny at the farm. Slogan, "We listened." The second, his frowning opponent outside a boarded up Bloedel (slogan, "Vision Vandals"?) denouncing the pointless destruction of our civic heritage.

The rational choice is obvious but I wouldn't bet a cent on it.

If Vision wants to see an example of successful refurbishing a popular Vancouver recreation facility, they might look @ the newly revamped Provincial Government skating rink @ the Robson Centre / Court House / Vancouver Art Gallery. The renewed rink demonstrates a commitment by the Government, the owner as the City of Vancouver is the owner of the Bloedel & Children's Farmyard, to maintaining & improving an imaginative facility rather than destroying it.

@Bill

You are correct in saying this once moribund facility is now the hit of the town. There were hundreds of people there enjoying themselves and skating with family and friends. I was just at GE Plaza on Sunday and will be writing about my experience. Check out our www.flikr.com/citycaucus page to check out some of the photos I took.

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