City defends decision to order demolition of Ming Sun building on Powell Street

Instant Coffee Art Collective questions why structure needs to be knocked down

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      The spokesperson for an artists' collective accuses the City of Vancouver of an inadequate response to the impending loss of studio space due to a demolition.

      Jenifer Papararo of the Instant Coffee Art Collective told the Georgia Straight by phone that city officials have offered 400 square feet at a market rate of $400 per month.

      "They have been very nice at the cultural department," Papararo said, "but what they’ve provided hasn’t been very helpful."

      She revealed that the collective is paying $1,000 a month for 1,800 square feet to accommodate five artists in the Ming Sun Benevolent Society's building in the 400 block of Powell Street.

      Papararo acknowledged that the city is willing to provide the collective with three months of storage space in the former W2 space in the Woodward's building.

      But she said that the Instant Coffee Art Collective will not accept the offer.

      "We have to find a studio that’s adequate—and if we take up the storage space, then we have to move everything in and move everything out, and it will be double the work to do so," Papararo said. "In the end, it will end up costing us more to move it in and out of the storage than it will to get a container for a month—and then move straight into a studio space."

      The city issued a statement today (December 6) claiming that it has presented the collective "with a number of options in other sites to continue their work and they have finally accepted a storage container in which to store their equipment".

      "What they’re stating is an exaggeration of what they’re really offering," Papararo replied.

      The city has declared that "some of the elements of the building pose an immediate safety risk to the public", and ordered the Ming Sun Benevolent Society to tear down the 120-year-old building "immediately".

      The city's statement cites two reports from professional engineers—including one retained by the building's owner—and its own inspections. The city alleges that the west-side brick facade "could collapse at any time".

      Papararo and other artists have waged a noisy protest.

      "We really believe that the building is not unsafe," Papararo said. 

      Earlier this week, architect David Wong—who's a descendant of one of the Ming Sun Benevolent Society founders—claimed to the Straight that there is a great deal of architectural merit to the building's interior.

      "It should be documented and not treated like a piece of trash," Wong said.

      The society and the artists' collective issued a joint statement today claiming that the city made a "hasty decision" earlier this year to tear down an adjacent building at 451 Powell Street.

      "This act led to the displacement of 10 low-income seniors in the adjoining building living in SRA units, as well as an artist collective," the statement declared. "The City did not consult with the owners of either building. They did not obtain a geotechnical review, or an independent structural report, nor did they conduct hazardous material assessment or an assessment to minimize impacts on adjacent properties—all of which is a requirement by the City for anyone wishing to demolish a building."

      According to the society and the artists' collective, this caused structural damage to the Ming Sun Benevolent Society building at 439 Powell Street.

      The city, on the other hand, claimed that "the demolition of the neighbouring building was supervised by a professional engineer hired by the demolition contractor and by the City's senior building inspector".

      "There is no evidence that this demolition in any way impacted the structural integrity of the neighbouring building," the city maintained.

      Furthermore, the city claimed that on November 14, the Ming Sun Benevolent Society "acknowledged that the building at 437-441 Powell Street had been structurally compromised beyond repair and would have to be demolished".

      "The City supported this decision and on November 15, 2013 ordered the demolition of the building in order to ensure the safety of the public and ensure that the site conditions did not deteriorate any further," the city added.



      Keith Higgins

      Dec 6, 2013 at 3:18pm

      Several questions hover over all of this. Most of them have to do with the actions of the property assembler who is benefiting from these demolitions.

      Sid Tan

      Dec 6, 2013 at 3:36pm

      You have the tenants and landlord onside working together. Richard Wong of Ming Sun Benevolent Association want the City of Vancouver to take responsibility for damage to their building from demolition next door. This was my take away and wondering why City Hall is not doing more to preserve the building.

      This is just arrogance, dismissive and seems an abuse of power. We have a civic government that pretends to care about minorities and low-income people and the arts.

      We have a civic government that purports to care about the environment and here they are pushing to discard a building that has been deemed solid by a structural engineering firm. A building that provided homes low-income seniors and a studio for artists, and, a building of historic value that took energy to create.

      Why does the City of Vancouver want to tear down such an important building that is part of our history?

      Alan Layton

      Dec 6, 2013 at 3:55pm

      I'm guessing this will be Visions newest method of demolishing heritage buildings so they can throw up more boxcars, or other cheap housing solutions. I fear for this entire neighbourhood and especially this block because they'll just make sure they damage the building beside it when they tear this one down. It'll be the domino effect.

      Jordan Wong

      Dec 9, 2013 at 11:01pm

      If the mayor and council had their way, they would take the wrecking ball to all of Chinatown and Japantown and turn it into glass condoville. The city is basically waiting to rebuild all of Chinatown as the seniors die off. The two new towers going up at Keefer/Main are the first of many. It's all about development dollars for the mayor and council.

      Soon all there'll be left of historic Chinatown are yuppie cocktail bars serving drinks with little oriental umbrellas.

      Jordan Wong

      Dec 9, 2013 at 11:15pm

      On another note, who thinks the city would bulldoze something like the Sinclair Centre if one of its walls were damaged?

      It's easy for the city to pick on the low-income, seniors, and disadvantaged. If the city comes in with its bulldozers for this building they'll have to move me first.