November 16, 2020

The Icepick is Back

In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26=storey office building at 555 Cordova, shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver. (Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station, and the proposed building site has been the eastern access and parking lot for the Station since it opened in 1914.)

The building, dubbed the Icepick, was withdrawn in 2015, following wide-spread concerns expressed by the Urban Design Panel and the public.  The proposed site is not a separate building lot and far too small to accommodate a giant office building.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original. Responding to design objections, the developer rotated and pushed the building a little further west and north, 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 at a Development Permit Board Meeting scheduled for March 22, 2021.

It’s important to know that that in 2009, Council-endorsed Central Waterfront Hub Framework to deal comprehensively with the many issues in this part of the city – our most important transportation hub and a last remaining part of the waterfront still to be connected to the publicly accessible

Because the proposed building is not consistent the Hub Framework, in October 2017, Council approved a program to update the Framework and resolve implementation issues. This work is in progress.

The proposal does not conform to planning guidelines for the area. The most recent proposed building is more than twice the suggested height of 11 stories, and six times the recommended floor space. It overwhelms heritage buildings on either side and provides an uninviting gateway to Historic Gastown.

The Hub Framework requires removing the top of the garage at the end of Granville to provide views of the ocean, mountains, cruise ships and access to a public walkway along the north side of the city.  Cadillac Fairview owns the parkade at the foot of Granville but has not agreed to an extension of Granville Street to the waterfront.

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 waterfront, Gastown, Chinatown and False Creek. This space at the entrance to Gastown would also make a splendid public plaza.  As the most important transportation hub in the region, this site is critical to the future of the city.

Approving Cadillac Fairview’s latest proposal will preclude the current planning process and seriously undermine future options for the City’s waterfront.  Does it make sense to put approvals before planning? Should a private developer be able to sabotage a public planning and design process?

You can send your views to the Mayor and Council, and to the Development Permit Board through  And you can send your comments to

From notes provided by the Downtown Waterfront Working Group

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  1. I have mixed feelings about the Ice-Pick itself. But I have serious issues with the Hub Framework. I understand the desire to continue the views and pedestrian realm through the end of Granville Street but what is proposed is just another road. Granville Square might not be ideal as a public square but it will be all but lost and not replaced with that change. One can talk about replacing it by re-purposing the parking lot at the east side of Waterfront Station but that is not what is being proposed. That is yet another road.

    What is proposed behind Waterfront Station as part of the Hub Framework is just a bunch more roads. New city blocks with more office buildings. That would be okay if the focus wasn’t so much about more and more roads. There is nothing proposed to replace the loss of Granville Square – just some sort of truncated extension to the seawall route.

    We all know how hard it is to take roads away from businesses and property owners. It is a nightmare and is rarely successful even if it brings economic advantage to those very businesses. They are more fearful of change than excited about opportunity. The Hub provides the perfect opportunity to start fresh, without the same old same old road as the answer to everything. Yes we need some vehicle access. No we do not need to repeat the mistakes of last century.

  2. I’m a fan. So long as the potential for future waterfront access and view shaft is maintained, the rest is noise. Conformity with adjacent building masses and typologies is immaterial.

  3. I think we all agree that deleting the parkade entrance and plaza level at the foot of Granville is an excellent idea which would open up the Inlet and North Shore to the business district.
    However, this proposal is at the opposite end of the CPR station and although blocking a well loved view to the harbor I can argue that the owner is within their rights to develop this valuable piece of land between Seymour and Richards. I don’t agree with Dan that it will maintain the view shaft – the glass might be rendered ‘clear’ but in actuality is typically reflective, or dark, or obscuring – depending on the sun and cloud cover, interior lighting, window shading, etc.
    I do have more of a problem with the tortured form, the lack of connection to the ‘transparent’ base (seismically this seems outright dangerous) and the crude way it is thrust upon a non-descript but well-loved heritage building.

  4. Covid aside, the Waterfront Hub developments are at the biggest transportation hub in the city.
    Accordingly, there should be some big office towers located immediately adjacent to the area so commuters arriving there (whether from Westcoast Express, Seabus or SkyTrain) do not have to add another leg to their journey. For inspiration, look at the Salesforce Tower in San Fransisco atop the Transbay Terminal, or the new One Vanderbilt office tower next to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.
    The biggest hinderance to development next to the hub are the view cones. That’s why the Icepick is a stubby fat tower that overhangs the station building – allow it and its future neighbours to go higher and the added flexibility will improve the design. Offices in the aea will also provide hoards of customers to the restaurants in Gastown.
    The CP Station will also be landlocked as future parcels will be extended out over the railway tracks whether or not the new roads are pedestrian, transit only or open to all vehicles. The waterfront views that many are trying to preserve will be landlocked in the future – just like Portal Park at the foot of Thurlow (which used to have an open view). If you;re wanbting a plaza, locate it further out, in allignment with Canada Place Way.

    1. There is nothing wrong with a public square being landlocked. There is a big problem with it having a road through the middle of it. Vancouver has no shortage of publicly accessible waterfront vistas. It has an absolute dearth of well planned, inviting, car-free public spaces (besides parks) anywhere in the city.

      Having said that, the east parking lot, should it become a plaza or square as it should, would not be cut off from water and mountain views – although a somewhat narrower view. Even the Ice-Pick retains most of its vista.

  5. This is yet another perfect example of Vancouver’s flawed Development Process.

    On the one side you have the City with a “a vision” of how they see land use and development. While there are issues with the Waterfront Hub Framework, the City’s premise of a transportation hub, publicly accessible plaza, density and height limits, etc. are in place and justifiable (ie not out of line).

    However, they do not own the property(ies) they are intended to apply to. The property owner finds those constraints unacceptable. To develop something they will want, they propose a redevelopment that far exceeds anything acceptable to the community.

    Resoundingly rejected, they play the long game, eventually come back with a similar, slightly smaller tweaked proposal. Cycle through a few iterations until finally someone says, “Look how much CF compromised* and it gets approved, still far in excess of what was orginally allowed and still not aligned with the City vision. Community is not happy.

    How do you invite others to submit alternatives, ideas of visions that can provide new perspective and compromise? These are win-win concepts.

    What if another Developer stpped up and said if tney owned the site, this would be their plan. At some point the City muat be able to say, stop bringing back the same thing over and over. Let the alternate buy the site with the condition al development approval of the City, pay off the first and go ahead. The first walks away slightly enriched.

    We saw a similar concept in the sale of West Bellanas island this past week, to be preserved for future public park.

    There have been some amazing public development contests / competitions / ideas in other global cities, but seems to be a non-starter here. It’s always “the Developer vs the City” (but holding hands); with public always on the outside save the token “public consultation process”.

    1. You’re absolutely bang-on here. Look what is unfolding with the Molson Brewery site. Although zoned Industrial, Concord Pacific buys it and immediately produces renderings of Industrial space with residential towers knowing full well they will be able to bully the city into rezoning it for condos. Buy at Industrial zoning price flip for Market condo price. Same tactic for the Westin Bayshore site.

      And a great point about our cities lack of design competitions. I read about this project in Sydney in Monocle Magazine:

      “Located in Sydney’s Alexandria, the recently opened Arkadia apartment development offers a compelling model for high-density urban living while reflecting the character of its surroundings.”

  6. There are only two things I don’t like about this.
    – The lack of similarity architecturally with the buildings on each side. I usually don’t worry about things like this but it is close to Gastown so maybe it should consider the heritage of the area.
    – The other is blocking the ability to look at the view of the north shore and mountains by people on foot.

    Both of these could be mediated by having the first three floors be a retro old style, above that it can be an ice pick, then include some sort of public access to a north side look out area.