In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26-storey office building at 555 Cordova. Dubbed “The Icepick”, the iconoclastic development would have been shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver.

Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station, and since it opened in 1914, the proposed remnant building site has been the station’s eastern access and parking lot.

The proposed site is not a separate building lot, and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The Icepick was turned down by City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back, this time with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original.
Responding to the objections of the Urban Design Panel, the developer rotated and pushed the building a little further west, slightly reduced its footprint, and made it possible to see and walk through the ground floor. With these changes, the developer seems intent on getting approval for Icepick 2 in the lead up to the civic election in October 2018.

The timing is odd indeed. The proposed building is not consistent with the existing 2009 Council-endorsed Central Waterfront Hub Framework. In October 2017, Council approved a program to update the Framework and resolve implementation issues. This work has only just begun.

Does it make sense to put approvals before planning? Is this another case of civic leaders caving in to developers? Neither version of the Icepick conforms to planning guidelines for the area. The most recent proposed building is more than twice the recommended height of 11 stories, and six times the recommended floor space. It ignores parking requirements, and overwhelms heritage buildings next door.

Most disturbing, Cadillac Fairview has not agreed to an extension of Granville Street to the waterfront. The developer owns the parkade at the foot of Granville. Removing part of the parkade’s top level was a central concept of the original Hub Framework. It would open the street to the waterfront, and provide an opportunity to build a public walkway connecting Stanley Park, the central waterfront, Gastown, Chinatown and False Creek.

This site is critical to the future of the city. It is the most the most important transportation hub in the region, a heritage precinct and the gateway to Gastown. Surely Vancouver, which prides itself on progressive planning, can find a better solution for this site. Waterfront access, respect for what is there now, and a focus on place-making can be the fruits of the current planning review.

A quick yes to Cadillac Fairview’s latest proposal will preclude the review and seriously undermine future options for the city’s waterfront.

Icepick 2 has to be stopped.

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  1. Planning bureaucracies tend to get worn down by the rejection-modification-rejection-modification cycle that projects like this go through. “Oh you didn’t like that one?…Well how about this new and improved (and enlarged) one.” Eventually an internal pressure to compromise builds up and the bureaucracy splits the difference between the reasonable and the ridiculous and calls it “more than reasonable”, when in fact it is simply “bigger than reasonable.”

    I’m an architect. I read drawings every day. I look at the new proposal and I see the designers obsessing over the tiny detail of the cleft between the base and the tower and calling it an “elegant way to break down the mass of the building”, as if that somehow made up for the even larger and more stupendously out of scale bulk of the tower.

    1. The tower is too tall vs the existing station. Why not remove the station or incorporate it into something far FAR bigger & taller, an iconic building like the Ericsson building, Butterfly or
      Vancouver House?

      It’s too valuable a view site to leave a station from 100 years ago. Bulldoze it or retain the fascade like in the stock exchange building. Then go 60-80 stories up behind it with mixed use !

      1. The CPR Station is Vancouver’s Grand Central, its St Pancras. It was the arrival point for millions of people of all classes and races for a century. This role continues. The CPR was pre-eminent in Canada’s history and this station marks the location of the completion of confederation. The architecture is Class A rated and the role of railways is deeply manifested in it. The murals at the clerestory of the great room are of the BC and Alberta mountain ranges. The building design is deeply regional but also utilizes the CPR’s identifying style of the day. The station contains a critical chunk of Vancouver’s historical DNA and its heart. The station is perfectly juxtaposed between the city (land) and the water. It presents a powerfully fenestrated wall to the street. Nothing compares.

        To bulldoze this building would be to bulldoze Vancouver’s genealogy which cannot be measured in floor area lease rates and land lift. Build the prosaic 80-story jobs on less important sites.

  2. Perhaps the province should be persuaded to purchase the CF property, at least the CPR building and the Granville parkade and share the cost with the feds (Ports Canada) and TransLink. I’d throw in the waterfront Aquilini property too. That way Waterfront Station could realize its full potential as a publicly-owned transportation hub for the next 100 years including a BC Ferries passenger-only service to the Island, and to accommodate the preliminary conceptualization of a mid-century continental high-speed rail terminus.

    The Icepick literally stabs the site and its future with a very large, ludicrously designed spear.

  3. I hope the concept can be revised to more closely align with the Waterfront Framework, particularly with regards to access, but is not scrapped altogether. Concerns over its scale are frankly immaterial.

    1. Immaterial? Great urban design thinking there. I think it is central to the consideration of approval for any one building or ensemble. But, even more importantly, the entire Hub framework needs to be brought up to date before this or any DP can be considered here.
      This should include punching Granville Street through as a precondition of approval for any CF developments.

      1. Happy to agree to disagree on that, Frank. Scale is way overblown, pun intended. But agree to agree on Granville. Extending it is the right move.

  4. The timing may be odd from a bureaucratic/administrative perspective, but from a developer / office market perspective the market is “hot” right now (but could be waning).

    The last office boom in Vancouver was in the 1990s.

    WRT construction around the Waterfront Hub – the site is decidedly “inland” so any view points to the north should be built and preserved from the buildings to be built to the north of the CP Station. The site sits in a similar situation as “Portal Park” between Hastings & Pender at Thurlow which used to have views over the railyards.

    I would rather see a true hub of transit-oriented development at the station to make use of all that people-carrying capacity.

    Agreed that architects tend to fawn over minute changes that not many people may notice. I do understand why they introduced the cleft (or Pac-Man mouth) – to relate to the height of the station.

    The biggest change in the design plan is the setting back of the tower from Cordova Street – which has the approval of the Vancouver Heritage Commission.

    See article here:

    1. Just to be accurate — 555 was presented in a ‘design workshop’ format to the Heritage Commission and the comments were split for and against. There was no motion presented to support it.

  5. There are a couple of relevant details that are a bit misleading in the piece. It’s not true that “The Icepick was turned down by City Hall in 2015”. It was never considered by the Development Permit Board, although there was a date allocated for a decision. After the Urban Design Panel didn’t support the design, it was put ‘on hold’. Now the design has been changed to reflect the comments made by the Panel, and presumably the hold has been released (although so far only the Heritage Commission have seen the new version – they didn’t object to it).

    Secondly, the timing doesn’t really have anything to do with trying to get things approved “in the lead up to the civic election in October 2018”. The project is not a rezoning, it’s a much simpler Development Permit application, and Council don’t get involved – it’s the Development Permit Board – all City staff. The timing is much more likely to be related to the huge added demand for Downtown office space – there are nine office towers under construction or in site preparation Downtown with over three million square feet of space – almost all of it pre-leased.

    One site in the Central Waterfront Hub Study is already under construction, across the street at 320 Granville, and that’s also bigger than the study envisaged. This would be the second, and while it’s significantly larger than was suggested in the study, it fits the zoning and meets the policy objectives of the Metro Core Employment Plan by putting a lot of jobs on top of transit. It also leaves space for the access road that might be needed if a future Hub Study can get to grips with the practical problems of building over rail tracks that might have Dangerous Cargoes parked on them. (I’m pretty certain the Aquilini family don’t own any of the land in question).

    1. I think he meant the other sports club owner – Greg Kerfoot – who as far as I know, still owns air right over the rail yards – rather than the Aquilinis.

      WRT adjacent office development, the block across Cordova from the CP Station is a busy one:
      – there’s also a 25 storey office tower to be built at 601 West Hastings (former site of the dome at Grant Thornton Place (formerly the Price Waterhouse Building)
      – a skinny office building to be built adjacent to the heritage Royal Bank Building on the empty lot.

      1. My bad. You are correct that the “Whitecaps” own the land under the tracks. Ports Canada owns the road and fill area northward.

        I stand with the idea that Ports should be encouraged to negotiate with both CF and Whitecaps to retain public ownership for a future transport hub. The ownership could be split four ways: both senior government, the regional, government and the city.

        The Waterfront Hub report and concept is a good start, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough to address the critical use as a transit hub far into the future. The Icepick literally stabs the future in the heart and disrespects all notion of responsible architecture and meaningful urban design.

    2. This is to clarify a few points made by Changing City.
      1) As you know, the Urban Design Panel is only an advisory panel and it is staff and Council who make the final decision. Staff and Council had outstanding unresolved issues with IcePick 1.The Director of Planning at the time, Brian Jackson, let Cadillac Fairview know that they would need to resolve the extension of Granville Street before the Development Application could be advanced since this was such a fundamental element of the implementation of the Hub Framework and because Cadillac Fairview (or one of its numbered companies) owns the Granville Street right of way north of Cordova. Downtown Waterfront Working Group has a copy of this correspondence to Cadillac Fairview.
      2) Normally as you point out, a development application does not have to go to Council, but given the inconsistency of the Icepick with the Council-endorsed Central Waterfront Hub Framework, this issue may have to go to Council. Here are Councillor Megg’s comments from December 1, 2016 Council meeting ..”While I think urban design is very important and the design was rejected by the UDP, I think there is concern in the wider community, and it was clear from a story in the media today, that the waterfront hub plan which is a policy of this council, is not being properly supported by some of the proposals that are coming forward.
      ….My fear is that people have lost sight of the plan and its objectives, which are to protect the opportunity for the city to create a central transportation hub which would knit together commuter rail, Skytrain, bus service, possibly the sea plane, and sea bus. And of course the passenger terminal down there which some people hope some day would have high speed trains going up and down the pacific seaboard.
      That’s the reason we have a Central Waterfront Hub Plan and that’s the very big prize which I think many people in the community are afraid could be lost if there isn’t a thoughtful approach to this development.
      I’ve reread the plan and I guess the point of this whole preamble is to say to Mr. Johnston would he see consulting with his senior team about maybe updating council on the plan….”
      City Council in October 2017 asked staff to undertake a review of the Framework Plan and that work has just begun so it doesn’t make any sense to consider isolated proposals in advance of completion of the review.
      3) Yes, 320 Granville Street is in the Hub Framework and the only site located away from the waterfront on the south side of Cordova. The Hub Framework specifically stated that this project could move forward in advance of all other sites as there were no infrastructure issues tied to the waterfront site. This is not the case for Cadillac Fairview Waterfront Station site. Page 44 (Phasing Plan) of the Hub Framework states that before development can advance on this site, the following need to be resolved:
      Transit facilities: Land Terminal ( concourse and transit mode connections), Land-Marine Terminal connections
      Other infrastructure: Framework area street network including Granville Street Extension, Cordova Connector, Canada Place Extension, Hub Street.

  6. Perhaps the station can be incorporated into a brand new building, with view terraces, restaurants, plazas, retail ie mixed use, housing and office, at 50+ stories. It’s far too valuable a site to leave the transit station one tall story essentially.

    Higher is better. Why not 80+ stories ?

  7. Thank you for helping bring this to the attention of the wider public .
    A city with world class aspirations for planning and design can do better ( or at least an equal level of quality to the development and public spaces already achieved West of the convention centre)

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