These days, many real-estate developers like marketing their properties on the strength of the surrounding neighbourhoods.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Onni Group is highlighting the location of its yet-to-be-built Canvas project of 209 homes in two buildings near the corner of Great Northern Way and Thornton Street.
It will be across the street from a new Emily Carr University of Art + Design campus, which is expected to be open by 2017.
Canvas will be a two-block walk to Southeast False Creek, a six- or seven-minute hike to Science World and the Main Street Station, and an even shorter stroll going east to the VCC-Clark SkyTrain station.
“All the top-floor homes have private roof decks,” Onni’s vice president of marketing, Nic Jensen, tells the Georgia Straight by phone. “Standing on the corner of Great Northern Way and Thornton, you’re looking at the city, the snowcapped mountains, and B.C. Place Stadium.”
He wouldn’t reveal the exact price per square foot because the company hasn’t filed its disclosure statement.
But he stated that homes will be available in the low $300,000 range as well as in the upper $200,000 range, and they will include storage and parking.
It’s the latest development in the evolution of what was once the industrial heartland of Vancouver.
For decades in the 20th century, Finning International was the largest landholder along Great Northern Way, building Caterpillar heavy-equipment machinery. But in 2001, when the company gave 7.3 hectares between Main Street and Clark Drive to four postsecondary institutions—UBC, SFU, BCIT, and Emily Carr University—it changed the area’s future forever.
The first transformation came with a new Centre for Digital Media, which was located in a renovated Caterpillar tractor factory. The centre, which offers master’s degrees, added a second building with 76 student apartments, bringing a residential component to the area.
The next big change came last year when Premier Christy Clark announced $113 million in funding so that Emily Carr could create its new campus.
Meanwhile, galleries such as Monte Clark, Catriona Jeffries, and Equinox have set up shop in the area, adding to the nascent neighbourhood’s artistic orientation.
A coffee shop is opening at the Centre for Digital Media and nearby, the Red Truck Beer Company is building a brewery at 295 East 1st Avenue.
It's not far from the Brassneck Brewery at 2148 Main Street.
Matt Shillito, an assistant director of community planning at the city, told the Straight by phone that the zoning allows Onni to build artist live-work units. He noted that there are a couple of other projects in the area built under the same zoning category.
“We work hard to ensure that the space is designed to be very suitable for artists, and that’s the focus, but it isn’t absolutely restricted to artists,” he said. “There’s not typically a covenant, but we push our policy as hard as we can.”
Shillito pointed out that the Onni project and the Emily Carr site also aren’t defined by the city to be in the area known as False Creek Flats. Jensen prefers calling the neighbourhood "Southeast False Creek Flats", which indicates its proximity to both the Olympic Village and the large swath of industrial lands on the north side of the property.
Because lands owned by Onni and Emily Carr are not classified as “industrial land” under Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy, it’s acceptable to allow certain types of housing.
Shillito added that Onni bought a second parcel from Emily Carr, which is behind the site of Canvas.
“They’ve got an allowance for about 150,000 square feet of live-work [housing] and about 100,000 square feet of hotel or student-residential that they could build under the existing zoning,” Shillito revealed.
He emphasized that the city has long viewed False Creek Flats to the north “as an important employment area serving the city as a whole and the downtown in particular”.
That will be the focus of a comprehensive planning process, likely to begin before the end of the year.
In the meantime, the city and Onni staff are closely watching to see where the region’s next rapid-transit line will be built.
According to Shillito, TransLink’s plans call for a SkyTrain station at Emily Carr University’s new campus if the regional transportation authority and senior governments decide to extend the Millennium Line from VCC-Clark Station.
What this could mean for the housing market in that area is anyone’s guess.