Massive change envisioned for North Vancouver waterfront

Ice rink, ferris wheel, water fountains and more listed in potential plan.

A skating rink five times bigger than the one in Robson Square. Water fountains that could come from the Bellagio and, yes, a ferris wheel on the City of North Vancouver's waterfront.

“How cool would that be?” Roger Brooks frequently remarked as he listed off dozens of ideas that would make the area between Waterfront Park and St. Georges Avenue “Canada's best gathering place.”

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After much hand-wringing in recent years over what to do with the land, city council hired Brooks, a destination marketing expert, to help run a process that would take public input and turn it into a vision for the prime location. Brooks gave his presentation summarizing more than a 1,000 survey responses, emails and phone calls plus consultation with local stakeholders to a packed council chamber Tuesday night.

“Wouldn't it be great if people over there at Canada Place were looking over here and they have something to see that makes them say 'Wow, I want to take that SeaBus over there, because that looks really cool,'” Brooks said.

Brooks' vision for Lot 5, which will now be branded “the Shipyards” includes a 15,000-square foot ice rink in winter/amphitheatre and plaza with water features in the summer – all covered by a tensile structure — a three-storey building with 60,000 square feet of revenue-generating commercial space (no chains or franchises welcome), a garden/gazebo area, restaurants, a new home for the North Vancouver museum and archives as well as a ferris wheel similar to the one erected on Seattle's waterfront in 2012.

As for the stern of the HMS Flamborough Head, which council was prepared to scrap but then asked Brooks to consider including in the plan after protests from heritage advocates, there just wasn't a spot for it anywhere close to where it sits today.

“Lot 5 is about people. That means scale. We couldn't put it there. We thought about making it a stage. We talked to sound people, lighting people. It just doesn't work. It's just too big. It does not scale to people,” he said. “We tried every way we could.”

But Brooks added, there's no reason the stern wouldn't work if placed and repurposed on the shoreline of Waterfront Park.

The Lower Lonsdale business district is also in need of some serious spit-shine, which Brooks was also tasked with devising.

“I've got to tell you, coming and getting off the SeaBus, your first impression of North Vancouver is about as poor as I’ve ever seen in the 1,000 cities I've worked in,” he said, referring to grey walls and a dark “cave” of a bus loop.

All it would need would be some “lipstick on the pig,” in the form of creative decoration on the walls, rather than demolishing the TransLink facility and starting over.

The commerce culture of Lower Lonsdale also needs to change so businesses are open after 6 p.m. — when 70 per cent of purchases are made, he said.

Beyond that, Brooks said the LoLo business district needs beautification, benches, entertainers, more patio space even if it comes at the expense of parking, and a gateway marking the entrance to the district at Lonsdale and Third.

Lest anyone be carried away by thoughts of romantic ferris wheel rides or Shakespeare under a tent, Brooks' presentation included the rough costs — about $30 million, not including the ferris wheel or moving the Flamborough Head. Seattle's ferris wheel cost $20 million but it is privately owned and made $11 million in its first year, Brooks said, noting he would not expect council to take it on solo.

“For the money, this will give you more bang for your buck than anything else you can do, period,” he said.

Once operational, the Shipyards should generate $2- to $3-million in revenues for the city, and the costs could be offset with corporate sponsorships and donations and the project could be phased in over about 10 years.

The city still has several big-ticket items on its wishlist including rebuilds of Harry Jerome Recreation Centre and North Shore Neighbourhood House, neither of which has a clear funding plan.

Brooks closed his pitch with a plea that council not let the waterfront vision become another plan to sit on a shelf or become picked apart to nothing by trying to make it please everyone.

“I'm begging you to just say, 'Staff, make it happen.' The second you go back out there and say 'Public, what do you think? What should we change?' all of a sudden, the whole thing is going to come apart,” he said. “You're never going to get anywhere.”

If council were to get staff working on developing the business plan, securing funding and getting architectural designs, there's no reason why the Shipyards portion could not be open by 2016, Brooks said.

Brooks' plan appeared to be well received by council members who were enthused if a bit leery of the costs.

Brooks plans to present council with his final report with a “to do list” on the vision within a month.

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