New red W is coming to Woodward’s project

Vancouver’s iconic 82-year-old red W will not sit on top of the Woodward’s project at 101 West Hastings Street. As a result of a city-council vote on May 19, the developer will install a replica of the W sign on top of a tower on the last remaining heritage building on the site. The original W will be displayed in a glass case in the public plaza of the project.

City of Vancouver heritage planner Zlatan Jankovic told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview that conservation consultant Hal Kalman determined that the original sign was impossible to repair after it was disassembled prior to redevelopment of the site because of its age and “material failure”.

“They decided, ”˜Why don’t we preserve it in this condition the way it is, and show it to the public in a display?’ ” Jankovic said.

In 2004, the city selected Westbank Projects and Henriquez Partners Architects to develop the project and retain the 1903 to 1908 heritage portion. The site will include 200 nonmarket housing units, a child-care facility, the Simon Fraser University school of contemporary arts, London Drugs, and a grocery store.

Jankovic said that there are 15 to 20 tonnes of material from the demolished part of the project, and that the original plan called for some of this to be embedded in the exterior walls of the new structure. However, as part of amendments to a heritage revitalization agreement recently approved by council, the developer is no longer required to include large architectural pieces from the historic building. According to a staff report, the large pieces would have compromised the integrity of the building envelope.

“They had an idea that we can keep some of this and reintroduce it in the faí§ade of the new buildings to display new and old together,” Jankovic said. “It was completely impossible.”

He added that the developer then considered the possibility of installing the large fragments on the ground floor so the public could see what they look like. However, the material was so heavy that it exceeded the structural capacity of the main slab. So instead, the developer will include four mural-size historic photographs of the Woodward’s store in each of the four lobbies, and will place a replica of the historic parking sign on a pedestrian bridge over West Cordova Street.

In addition, the developer will finance a short film about efforts to save the heritage components of the building. “They decided, ”˜We cannot save this, but we can make a movie about it,’ ” Jankovic said. “We’ll have a movie telling the whole story of the attempt to retain them, and to reuse and reintegrate them.”

So what will happen to the tonnes of debris from the old buildings? Jankovic said one option is to try to sell it to someone who would reuse it and create a revenue stream that would flow back into the community. “I’m not sure if they’ll be able to do that because there’s not much interest in buying these fragments,” he conceded. “It’s very difficult to work with.”

There will be a drop of nearly 70,000 housing starts across the country this year compared to 2008, according to a May 19 Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation report. And that has some people wondering if this will create some upward pressure on prices over the medium term.

This slowdown in the residential-construction industry has been mirrored by a slowdown in activity at Vancouver’s development-permit board and urban-design panel.

As of May 21, eight of the development-permit board’s 10 scheduled meetings this year have been cancelled, according to the city’s Web site. Only four of the 10 scheduled meetings were cancelled over the same period last year.

This year, only three applications have gone before the development-permit board. During the same period last year, the board heard 15 applications.

The slowdown hasn’t been as extreme at the urban-design panel, with only four of the 10 meetings cancelled so far this year. The panel has dealt with nine applications and discussed one civic issue. During the same period in 2008, no meetings were cancelled and the panel dealt with 24 applications and four workshops, issues, or presentations.