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Food and beverage a prescription for Lonsdale waterfront vibrancy: Colliers International
Restaurants — and even more restaurants — are what will bring the people to the Lower Lonsdale waterfront, says a seasoned commercial real estate firm.
Last summer City of North Vancouver council set the wheels in motion to reinvent the waterfront as a destination for North Shore residents and visitors alike. Colliers International, a global commercial real estate firm, was hired to develop a Central Waterfront Retail Strategy — and to market and manage future retail leases on the site.
Using market-supported targets, Colliers looked at potential uses for the decommissioned Historic Pacific Great Eastern (PGE) Railway station and the Cates Tugs building at the foot of Lonsdale, and Lots 3, 4 and 5 at the adjacent Shipbuilders’ Square.
Among the firm’s findings, which were presented to council on Oct. 7, is “a significant opportunity” for 15,000 to 19,000 square feet of additional food and beverage space in the area.
“Patio space is going to be critical, especially to activate that foot of Lonsdale there. You really can not underestimate the importance of patios,” said David Bell, senior associate, planning and retail consulting, Colliers International.
Colliers is recommending some food and beverage component be incorporated into almost all of the current buildings, including a bistro-style wine bar in the Presentation House Galley — proposed for the Cates Tugs building — and a destination restaurant and casual grab-and-go food counter in the Coppersmith Shop (Lot 3).
At the same time, Bell stressed the strategy is not focused on maximizing building area.
“This is not just about shops, it’s not just about commercial services, it’s not even just about restaurants — it’s about what we can do with buildings and spots to support what an active waterfront really should be,” said Bell.
That vision includes the integration of arts, culture and recreation to attract people to the area at all hours of the day and throughout the year.
The North Vancouver Museum and Archives has been given conditional approval by the city for use of the Pipe Shop (Lot 4) for a $10-million museum, in a deal that hinges on the proponents raising half the money themselves and providing a solid fundraising feasibility study by next April.
Colliers was asked to find other uses for that space, in case the museum project folds. A fitness facility, day spa or yoga studio were among the suggestions for the Pipe Shop.
Lot 5 is perhaps the most contentious piece of the Lonsdale waterfront puzzle. The undeveloped parcel of land has the potential for approximately 63,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial space.
Rumours of Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier expansion plans prompted a handful of Lower Lonsdale residents to express their concern at the Oct. 7 council meeting.
“The shipyard development — including Lot 5 — must have amenities enjoyed by all North Shore residents on a consistent year-round basis,” said Esplanade Avenue resident Garry Johnston. “An expanded hotel or educational facility does not fall into that category.”
Bell prefaced his presentation by saying the ideas being brought forward for Lot 5, including the “very real possibility of a hotel expansion” are not set in stone but rather building blocks for consideration.
“In fact, I’d like to say right now that it’s extremely important that a significant portion of Lot 5 be retained for open space …,” said Bell. “We’ve even suggested a grass amphitheater because those types of uses allow for public gathering.”
A large public plaza, envisioned for Lot 5 by tourism industry guru Roger Brooks, is the linchpin of the waterfront project. The president of Destination Development International (DDI), a Seattle-based branding, marketing and consultancy firm, has also been retained by the city to help redesign the area.
The Lonsdale waterfront site does have a lot of challenges from a retail standpoint, Bell told council — limited on-site parking, which could be potentially mitigated by some underground parking on a developed Lot 5, and limited sight visibility for public transit users.
Following the presentation by Colliers, council had a chance to weigh in on their findings. Coun. Rod Clark said he was assured by city staff that Pinnacle has not made a formal application for an additional “75 to 100 rooms.”
“So, I guess my suggestion is, if indeed there are hotel rooms being requested, that better get in the loop — and damn fast — because as far as I am concerned we are coming down to the short strokes about decisions,” said Clark.
Coun. Pam Bookham asked whether or not existing Lower Lonsdale parking stock has been factored into the strategy. Bell said pay parking at Lonsdale Quay and street parking in the area was considered, but it won’t be enough to support future development.
Coun. Craig Keating suggested council move forward with the expectation that Presentation House Gallery and the North Vancouver Museum and Archives will make a permanent home on the waterfront.
He supports staff’s recommendation to move the strategy to a broader vision process, saying he’s heard from the public over the years: ‘Why the heck aren’t you getting the job done on the waterfront?’
“It is an amazing successful waterfront,” said Keating. “I don’t know too many other abandoned industrial lots that have so much nighttime activity around them. Having said that, I think we can probably improve on blue fencing.”
On the issue of hotel expansion, Keating said it’s an integral part of the retail strategy’s objective of creating a people-orientated waterfront.
“I think if the argument is that all the evidence points in the direction that more hotel rooms will add to that vibrancy of the place — then that should be the thing that helps us make our decision around that.”
Mayor Darrell Mussatto spoke to the financial significance for a redesigned waterfront, saying the plan has to work well for all the businesses in Lower Lonsdale.
“Because when they do well, the city will do well,” said Mussatto.
Council voted unanimously — Coun. Don Bell was absent from the meeting — to use the retail strategy as a guide during the next stage of planning — the Central Waterfront Visioning process.
As well, $400,000 will be appropriated from the Lower Lonsdale Amenity Reserve Fund to cover leasing costs for the Coppersmith and Pipe shops, which the city hopes to rent out in the near term.