Condo, office and hotel tower planned for old downtown Vancouver post office

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Bentall Kennedy has outlined the preliminary project scope of its plans to transform the old post office building into a mixed-use development complex in downtown Vancouver.

The 686,000 square foot post office building across from Library Square takes up an entire city block, framed by Homer, Dunsmuir, Hamilton and West Georgia streets. It was built in 1958 and was one of the city’s first significant landmark buildings given its scale and use of International Style architecture. There are seven floors underground, capable of fitting large mail trucks, and five floors above ground.

According to a City of Vancouver rezoning report that will be reviewed by City Council on Wednesday, the building owner and developer plans to build residential, office, retail and hotel uses while maintaining the shell and heritage aspects.

An office tower could be built on top of a portion of the sprawling building along West Georgia Street, although the existing parking lot that fronts the street is slated to become a public plaza. This would also serve to preserve the historic elements and art found along the building’s West Georgia facade.

The street-level granite walls of the building would be modified for street retail and the redevelopment will also consist of separate lobbies for its office, hotel and residential components. The incorporation of a large retailer, in addition to smaller retail units, is also a possibility and would help address the high demand of brands looking to open a presence in downtown.

However, the height of the towers permitted on the site will be relatively restrained, even though the site is within the growing business district of the downtown peninsula. Existing zoning permits heights of up to 450 feet, but two view corridors will cut down the potential height to 225 feet across the site except on the southwest corner (West Georgia and Homer streets).

The incorporation of a residential element to the project is subject to further approval. Residential is currently not permitted due to a 2008 change in city policy that prevents residential projects from cannibalizing on job-creating space within the Central Business District.

In order for condominiums to be built on the post office site, the City has mandated that “a minimum of the permitted commercial density in the zoning should be achieved on the site.”

In 2008, the federal government sold the post office city block to B.C. Investment Management Corporation for $130 million as Canada Post was moving plans to relocate its West Coast hub to a new, state-of-the-art facility at Sea Island next to Vancouver International Airport. The new processing facility opened in September 2014 at a cost of $200 million.

The old post office redevelopment will be a major catalyst for downtown Vancouver’s eastward expansion. New major office towers and cultural institutions have been built or proposed for the eastern fringes of the peninsula, including TELUS Garden and the Vancouver Art Gallery’s relocation to a new world-class building at Larwill Park – just two blocks away from the post office.

The Vancouver Art Gallery considered using the post office building for its new home, but the idea of a new purpose-built gallery was favoured.

Canada Post’s original main processing centre could also be redeveloped in the coming years. The federal government is exploring opportunities to add 1.1 million square feet to Sinclair Centre across from Waterfront Station, and such a plan would likely include adding an office tower above the heritage buildings.

Sinclair Centre consists of four buildings built between 1910 and 1936 and is currently mainly occupied by federal government offices.

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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