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Massive project, 26-storey tower at Broadway/Kingsway will remake SOMA

October 25th, 2010 · 83 Comments

While everyone is fighting over towers in the West End and in Marpole, I discovered almost by accident last week that there’s a significant new development planned for Main and Kingsway when I dropped in to the urban design panel.

Unbeknownst to I think many people, the much-praised firm of Acton Ostry has been designing a huge development for the entire block that includes the former strip of stores on Broadway that burned down on Christmas Day last year and the Cantu/Living Space/Midland Appliances cluster in the former Jantzen building on Kingsway.

That will all come down (surprised me to hear the Jantzen building has no heritage protection but apparently not) for a 26-storey tower with townhouses and retail wrapped around the base, along with 10,000 square feet of artists’ spaces that will run along the 10th Avenue (bike lane) side. The Watson Street/back alley will be the parking entrance.

In total: 206 market units and 62 rental units under the city’s sometimes-controversial program to encourage rental housing by giving developers density. It looks as though there will be a large courtyard in the middle. I’d like to show designs but there aren’t any on the city’s list of development projects or on Acton Ostry’s. All that’s available publicly is this.

You might think the community would be up in arms over this. STIR projects have been generating backlash in the West End. And this is blocks away from the site of the social-housing tower that prompted huge neighbourhood resistance — enough that council lopped off three floors.

But not a word.  It sounds as though it’s partly because city planners have been working with the Mount Pleasant community on this. Mount Pleasant did get, three years ago, the much-coveted chance for a re-visioning of the whole neighbourhood — the kind of thing that the West End and Marpole have been asking for as they resist towers there.

The planners and architects noted, for instance, that they took four storeys off the tower already in order to respond to community reaction and so were reluctant to make the tower any higher. (They made that comment when various people on the design panel suggested the tower height should be raised to make it feel more vertical, less blocky, and to remove some bulk from the lower levels.)

That may bring positive changes — perhaps even to Kingsgate Mall, the strange little replica of a mall in Trail or Cranbrook that across the street from the project in this prime location. As architect Scott Romses said, “it’s going to be a seed for this neighbourhood, a catalyst for everything around it.”

(Thanks to J3 to pointing me to some renderings of the buildings. Here’s one link.

I have to say the project startled me. Although it looks as though it’s been designed imaginatively, it’s very different from everything else around there. There’s a lot of development at Main and Broadway these days, but it’s mainly matched the shape, height and even the dark-red brick of the famous Lee Building at the intersection. This is a big tower that will rise over everything around.

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