Downtown Eastside's First United Church plans lengthy closure for redevelopment

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      A beloved church in the Downtown Eastside is planning to close its doors for at least two years while it undergoes a “major” redevelopment.

      First United Church, at the corner of East Hastings and Gore streets, provides 60 shelter beds and offers services for homeless and low-income people that range from free meals to foot care.

      Heather Forbes, who serves as a spokesperson for the church, told the Straight the parish has entered into negotiations to see the site undergo a complete redevelopment.

      Construction is planned to begin in 2019, from which point services offered at East Hastings and Gore will have to relocate. Forbes said that if all goes according to plan, the development will be completed by 2021. The church will move all operations back to their current location.

      “While we’re redeveloping, we will be temporarily located elsewhere,” Forbes said in a telephone interview. “And then we’ll come back and we’ll have a purpose-built building for the type of work that we do now.”

      The redevelopment will include the construction of a large building with new housing units, Forbes revealed. But she quickly emphasized that any structure built at 320 East Hastings Street will be “low-rise” and designed for the low-income people the church caters to today.

      “The building will be for the type of people that we currently service,” she said.

      During the current location’s planned closure from 2019 to 2021, Forbes said, First United would remain active in the Downtown Eastside and, hopefully, continue with services for the homeless.

      “We will be present in the neighbourhood throughout, doing the same type of work that we do now,” she said. “We’re committed to shelter. That is part of our ongoing commitment to the neighbourhood.”

      First United is owned by the B.C. Conference of the United Church of Canada. Forbes said that body has entered into early talks with the City of Vancouver and B.C. Housing.

      Pressed on details related to the development and any potential tower, Forbes said there are still a lot of specifics that need to be worked out. She stressed that any housing component that come with the project would be geared toward low-income earners. Forbes declined to name a developer the church will be working with, claiming a partner still has to be confirmed.

      Kevin McNaney, an assistant director of planning with the City of Vancouver, said his office has yet to receive a development application from the church. He did, however, note that its location at 320 East Hastings Street falls within the Downtown Eastside’s Oppenheimer District. McNaney explained that this means it must meet relatively new guidelines for low-income housing that require 60 percent of any new tower to serve as social housing.

      St. James Anglican Church at the corner of Cordova and Gore isn't going anywhere.
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      News of First United Church’s redevelopment sparked rumours that another nearby parish was planning to close its doors to make way for a condominium tower. On Monday morning (January 25), some social-media posts said people had heard St. James Anglican Church, at the corner of Cordova and Gore streets, was slated for demolition.

      In a telephone interview, Father Kevin Hunt, who heads the St. James Anglican Church, said those rumours were false.

      “There is absolutely no conversation along those lines going on,” he told the Straight. “We’re in good spirits and going forward.”

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