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Mayor says solution in the wings for Bloedel Conservatory

January 29th, 2010 · 9 Comments

Well, isn’t this news release, hot off the electrons at city hall, interesting? I had a story a couple of weeks ago saying the mayor was asking staff to look for solutions. The issue hasn’t been going away. If you do a Twitter search under the mayor’s name, one of the most common posts, much retweeted, is linked to the Georgia Straight’s item on a British advocate urging the mayor to save the conservatory. (21st-century journalism, yikes.) And I note that the Friends of the Bloedel fundraiser on Jan. 30 has sold out.

I note that this news release doesn’t have any details, though. I’ll be waiting to see those, as I’ve had a couple of news releases from this administration that advertise solutions that don’t work out quite as perfectly as they say they’re going to. (At Tab 1: the Little Mountain agreement to allow some residents to stay.)

Here’s the release, verbatim

City moving closer to Bloedel Conservatory solution, says Mayor

Mayor Robertson today committed to finding collaborative solutions that will allow the Bloedel Conservatory to remain open, saying the City and Park Board are moving closer to identifying a way to keep it open.

“I’m committed to working with the Park Board, the community, interested parties and investors to find a long-term solution to ensure the Conservatory remains open,” said Mayor Robertson. “I believe we’ll find a way to make it a success.”

The City’s and Park Board’s efforts to save the Bloedel Conservatory are moving closer to a resolution that would allow it to stay open, but a financial gap still remains, said the Mayor.

A Park Board Request for Expression of Interest inviting interested parties to submit a business plan to operate the Conservatory will be released shortly. The City has been contacted by a number of groups interested in creating a successful business plan for the Conservatory.

“City and Park Board staff have worked very hard on a number of options that would allow Bloedel to remain open, while removing the financial burden from city taxpayers,” said Mayor Robertson. “I’m confident that by continuing to partner with community groups, non-profits, and private donors, we can find a way to save it. We know that the capital investment is one of the key components which needs to be addressed and this is something the Park Board and the City are discussing with interested parties.”

The City faced a $61 million budget shortfall for 2010, and the Conservatory, which is subsidized by the Park Board, requires extensive capital repairs and investment.

“We know that the Bloedel Conservatory is treasured by many people across our city,” said Park Board Chair Aaron Jasper. “We’re looking at all options and I’m hopeful that innovative and creative proposals will come forward and allow the Bloedel Conservatory to remain open.  We will find a solution.”

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  • Bill McCreery

    Wow! What an abrogation of his elected responsibility. Bloedel & the Children’s Farmyard are owned by the people of Vancouver & they are in the ‘care & custody’ of the Parks Board. They are not some speculative asset to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. What does he mean by ‘financial gap’? What does ‘capital investment’ mean?

    The City has not done any maintenance on the structure in 40 years. Buildings require maintenance. A newly rejuvenated Conservatory also needs some added ‘capital’ improvements. But, why can’t these funds be raised in a similar way to Van Dusen?

    The current Request for Proposals exercise is a charade & smokescreen created in an attempt by Vision to hide their failures: firstly, the $11m 08 surplus + $61m 09 deficit under their watch, when other Metro municipalities had none, is their responsibility, not the recession’s &, secondly their blunder in deciding Bloedel & the Farmyard were not so called ‘core services’. Now they’re saying they want to save Bloedel. Does that mean it’s suddenly a core ‘service’?

    What about the Farmyard? Is Bloedel being ‘saved’ because of the ongoing public outcry, while the Farmyard will suffer the Reeper’s ax because there wasn’t a sufficiently sustained volume from the public? I’m sorry, this is not the way public policy decisions should be made. As a former Parks Commissioner I am outraged @ these tactics & many of my colleagues & voters share my concerns.

  • gasp

    To Bill McCreery:

    In recent years City Council and City staff have acted as though ALL the assets owned by the people of Vancouver and in their “care and custody” (including roads, parks, and bridges) are nothing more than speculative assets to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

    One example of this type of thinking is the plan to remove the Pacific Street connections off the Granville Street bridge so that the land underneath them can be sold and developed into more condos. There was no cost/benefit analysis, or analysis as to how this would impact the traffic flow all over the West End, in the report recommending this course of action, merely the bold assertion that this would be a better use of the land. Tell that to the 15,000+ people who use those connections every day. Apparently, making money is the only consideration – public convenience and safety be damned! (Now they’re considering removing the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts as well – after all, more land to sell!)

    This trend apparently started when the City sold off the land in the 1980’s (?) across from Saint Paul’s Hospital which contained the schools for the entire West End (Dawson elementary and King George High School) on the basis that there were no children in the West End so the schools were no longer needed (tell that to the parents of children who currently live in the West End and have to take their children elsewhere to go to school). This short sighted thinking gave us the Wall Centre, instead of preserving that public space for use by future generations.

    Other examples include the narrowing of streets and causing major traffic congestion so that developers can get in more condos (see Arbutus Street between Broadway and 16th Avenue, which added 5 – 10 minutes to every Arbutus bus trip, making public transit on that route even more unusable), or encroaching on parks and other public spaces for the same purpose (see the development on 12th across from VGH .

    This apparently comes from the City administration’s somewhat misguided notion that they are in the property development business, rather than trustees of the assets held in a public trust.

    It appears the politicians and staff have accepted so many donations, tickets, lunches, dinners and drinks from developers that they have lost sight of their role to act in the “public interest” – i.e., in the interest of those members of the public, the community at large, whose legal rights or liabilities are affected – and instead see themselves as “partners” with the development industry.

    This confusion as to their role has also led them to focus their efforts into “revenue generation” rather than to act as prudent managers of the public trust through the proper allocation of existing tax revenues.

  • Bill McCreery

    Good points. Well made.

    Continuing, what is the motivation for some of the Vision initiatives such as the West End rezoning, NE False Creek with insufficient park space, increased heights in historic areas as well as those mentioned above?

    I thought ‘lunches’ had gone out of vogue…….. but, maybe it’s changed from the table to the trough……… This is not my idea of how City business is conducted.

  • gasp

    In my view, Vision and NPA appear to be two sides of the same coin – both too closely influenced by the real estate and development industry, and also too contemptuously dismissive of the public’s input.

    One reason for this may be the improper focus on the developers’ profitability as opposed to the public’s interests, in part brought about by the back room dealings for so-called “community amenity contributions”.

    As we’ve seen so many times, the amenities agreed to in the back room are usually inadequate and substandard for the public’s needs, and rarely compensate fully for the increased costs to the public for the infrastructure needed to support these new developments. That’s the main reason why taxes keep going up – taxpayers are, in effect, subsidizing these developments and getting a token playing field (or some other such nonsense) in return.

    Furthermore, there is a complete failure by the City to assess, or even acknowledge the negative consequences and intangible costs of every course of action they choose. For example – What are the health consequences of packing people together without adequate park space? Their attitude is – Who cares (unless it can be measured in monetary terms), look at all this tax revenue we’re getting! When the public raises these issues, the City claims it’s gotten the best deal it can from the developers, so the public’s concerns are irrelevant.

    With such a defective process how can you possibly have any sound decision making in the public interest?

  • Four of the best posts this blog will ever see…

    Kudos!

  • david hadaway

    I went to yesterday’s Bloedel function and seeing that place at night became even more incredulous at the prospect of its closure. What kind of city government would even contemplate this? The kind, I suppose, that would spend the money that would save the conservatory and farmyard on freeby Olympic tickets for its far from badly off councillors.

    Standing over the pond inside I noticed that the reflection of the roof gave the impression of being inside a sphere. This, combined with the dome’s diameter of 140 feet and its shallow exterior profile made me wonder if it has deliberate references to the Pantheon at Rome.

    Perhaps that’s a bit fanciful but seeing it last night, well…

  • NPA Park Board Commissioner Ian Robertson is to be commended for recognizing the importance of the Conservatory to the city, leading the fight to save it, and coming up with the financial donations necessary to save it.

    Ian is a quiet, effective commissioner the other commissioners regularly turn to for leadership. I’m glad the Mayor, too, is finally catching up with him on this issue at least.

  • Bill McCreery

    Another gasp….. If you want a real estate influenced NPA, the recent version have been angels compared to the pre-TEAM, 1960s version. From them we got spot zoning, Pacific Centre syphoning people underground & off the street & would have had a freeway system through downtown, False Creek, Chinatown & Strathcona if TEAM had not stopped them in 1972.

    The 70s TEAM group created the present earned bonusing / heritage preservation / density transfer mechanisms, which in my view have served the City well. Their application has been an important part of creating one of the most livable, vibrant, safe downtowns I have experienced. There are reasons why planners from around the world have come to Vancouver to study our development model & why False Creek has been reproduced in Dubai. The more recent NPA version has @ least had the good sense not to mess up what was working well but, rather fine tuned & improved it.

    I disagree with Mr/Ms gasp in that the social, cultural & park / open space amenities which have been provided via this process are an important part of the heathy, urban lifestyle available in downtown Vancouver today. They are positive assets resulting from this process & contribute positively to the Vancouver we know & love.

    The problem today, however, is that Vision does not seem to understand, or even want to understand, what has gone before. Their seat of the pants planning related decisions to date [some referred to above] reveal an incredible lack of understanding of good planning process & principles, urban economics, taxation policy & the role of local government with a very restricted tax base. They have already, with half a dozen initiatives cost Vancouver taxpayer dearly & are well on their way to destroying a healthy, evolving regional urban centre, one of the best in the world.

  • Good discussion. I hope to hear more from GASP.

    For those of you who don’t recognize his name, Bill McCreery is a Vancouver architect and planner who was an important player on the planning scene in the late 60’s and 70’s. He was one of the first architects to set up shop on Granville Island, opposed the freeways and served as a TEAM Park Board Commissioner. He was always a bit ahead of his time, and it’s great to read his perspective on recent councils (who, I agree often appear to be two sides of the same coin).

    And yes, ‘coin’ may be one of the reasons for this!

    I also attended the Bloedel rumble in the jungle and am confident that based on the demonstration of community support that night, (and since the closing announcement), the Conservatory will not close. It just needs a new business model, some proper marketing, and some vision….if you’ll pardon the pun.