A city's waterfront, re-imagined

Success is sometimes the culmination of a whole series of failures Vincent Van Gogh

WITH its permanently unfinished look, the Lower Lonsdale waterfront has always added character to the North Shore.

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I've wanted to take a closer look at redevelopment plans here for a while, so it made sense to call Coun. Don Bell from the City of North Vancouver and ask.

Don has been a resident of the North Shore for more than 40 years and of the city for the past six. After being elected to virtually every position in the adjacent district and serving four years as Liberal MP for North Vancouver in Ottawa, he returned to the community, serving for six months as chairman of a city task force on civic engagement before getting back into municipal politics. He usually knows what's going on, and we go back a ways together, so he seemed like the right person to consult.

For a long time, the city had a reputation for routinely pushing through big, dull housing projects. For creative energy, you looked to the district.

Recently however, those roles have reversed. Except for Mayor Richard Walton, district leadership seems stodgy and anonymous, while in the city, Bell is with a high-energy group of elected officials, and the waterfront gives them plenty to work on.

Don and I met on a grey morning a few days ago in front of the Pinnacle Hotel which, if you haven't heard, already does better than 70 per cent occupancy with its 106 rooms, and has just earned an Insiders Select Award from Expedia. Visitors like what they find.

Glaucous gulls were squabbling and the harbour's morning chop sloshed against the pilings east of the Quay Market where we set about our walking tour.

Bell noted a plan proposing that the Seaspan Building adjacent to the market be acquired by the city and become the new feature site of Presentation House Gallery. It's a project that could cost as much as $12 million, meaning significant fundraising would be needed to set up the attraction, but a business plan is in the works, and serious funding has been allocated for a study.

Bell thinks of it as a foundation-stone in a potential new cultural precinct along the waterfront, and he notes Mayor Darrell Mussatto and other city councillors are supportive of the concept. It's a great idea.

There's thinking, too, that a leg of the Spirit Trail could run from the Quay and Waterfront Park in front of a new galley and back up to Esplanade and on to the forthcoming Low-Level Road.

Nearby, environmental remediation work will start soon at the large heritage shipyard building known as "Lot 3" at the foot of Lonsdale, east side. Once the province has signed off, the hope is that high-quality restaurant and retail tenants will move in. Rentals here would be revenue generators.

The quaint Pacific Great Eastern Railway Station and adjoining parking lot just east of Lonsdale Quay sit atop pilings, and redevelopment is inevitable.

Could be more retail, but Bell notes that the city wants to create "walkable flows," and one idea would see a small new outdoor theatre built on the property as part of a public amenity arrangement with a developer. Beloved by railroad buffs, the old station will be maintained, but likely at a new site nearby.

Moving eastward, the new stage at Shipbuilders Square, with its giant crane, is already a hit with summer concertgoers, and the night market at the long pier has proven successful.

The Pier 7 restaurant, owned by the Pinnacle Hotel, is a legitimately hot destination for romantic dates, but Bell agrees something else is needed to keep the area alive during mid-week daylight hours.

The solution could be the long-awaited North Vancouver Museum - a proposed joint city-anddistrict venture that would replace the existing facility at Presentation House.

Bell leads us into the 9,000 sq ft. Lot 4 building east of the music stage and in front of the hotel. It's a huge space with tremendous exposed beam work. With the addition, say, of more glass and a partial mezzanine floor, it would make a dramatic waterfront addition. A modern attraction with interactive, changing heritage displays for younger visitors and a First Nations exhibition for tourists would keep the place humming through the year. A bright reception hall with harbour views could draw excellent revenues if rented for social or business functions, and Pinnacle Hotel manager Tim Morrison confirms they'd be interested.

After so many past disappointments, you can feel this project finally inching toward fruition.

Nearby, the old shipyard Machine Shop site - Lot 5 - remains available. On an Olympic-season note, expect beach volleyball courts to appear there soon. Capilano University may have longer-term interest in the site, though, for the creation of an arts-oriented satellite campus.

Pinnacle has three more residential buildings planned farther to the east.

There's a lot percolating here, culturally and business-wise. As Bell notes, "The city has definitely come alive in a number of areas, and Lower Lonsdale is key among them."

. . .

For another upbeat city discovery, check out Loutet Farm at Rufus Avenue and 14th Street.

Affiliated with UBC's Edible Garden Project and managed through North Shore Neighbourhood House, the farm is run by volunteers and one full-time employee, Gavin Wright. Full marks to the city for supporting this great five-year pilot project idea that gives urban folks a chance to pull weeds and learn how to grow lush, organic produce.

Work events at the farm offer a chance to meet new neighbours and talk gardening tips every second Saturday, 1-3 p.m., or the last Wednesday of the month at 5: 30 p.m., followed by a pot-luck supper. Produce sales from the farm are on Wednesdays, 3: 30-5: 30 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

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