TransLink’s plan to extend the Millennium Line SkyTrain route along Broadway may result in the demolition of an industrial building holding two art galleries that have helped spur a thriving cultural district.
The iconic orange building on Great Northern Way was built in 1964 for Finning Tractor Ltd. The Equinox and Monte Clark galleries renovated the space between 2011 and 2013 and have operated there since. There is now concern that the “cut and cover” method, which was used by TransLink to extend the Canada Line along Cambie Street, would result in the building being torn down as early as 2019.
Equinox Gallery director Andy Sylvester told the Straight that he and Monte Clark are urging TransLink to consider diverting their planned construction route.
“We’re not trying to stop transit," said Sylvester. “If they change the course just a slight amount they can preserve this building.”
Sylvester, whose gallery has shown work by everyone from Fred Herzog to Gathie Falk and Mary Pratt, said he’s not confident he can find a building of the same size, character, and rental price that can replace the Finning building.
“To be blunt, it took me 10 years to find that building when we moved from Granville Street. It took a decade to find that,” said Sylvester, referring to his move away from the more expensive Granville Row. “Space in our great city is, as we all know, at a ridiculous premium.”
When asked for comment, TransLink directed the Straight to a structure plan for Great Northern Way that was taken to city council in 2014, and that involved input from community members. Regarding the Equinox and Monte Clark gallery spaces, the plan states that "its [the building's] retention will be accommodated through a realigned road network and interim grading until construction of the Broadway Subway." The plan's summary references the "renewed vision" for the area, including a new campus for Emily Carr University of Art + Design, making the Millennium Line Broadway extension a priority as the campus starts to bring increased traffic to the neighbourhood.
Since the two galleries have taken up occupancy in the building, the district has become known as The Flats. Galleries, designers, art studios, and popups have congregated to call The Flats home, all within walking distance of one another.
“When Andy and I moved here, it wasn’t the area it is today. It’s become this amazingly healthy cultural precinct,” said Monte Clark, director the Monte Clark Gallery, whose facility is currently showing the work of artist Karin Bubaš.
Aside from losing the draw for tourists and art appreciators, there is also concern that the loss of the Finning building will be a blow for Vancouver’s historic identity. The 20,000-square-foot building is representative of Vancouver’s vanishing industrial architecture, and Clark raised the point that compared to other cities, these large, industrial buildings are rare finds for galleries that want to curate ambitious, spacious exhibits.
“Toronto manufactured a lot of stuff; they have many factories left over. Vancouver doesn’t have that," said Clark.
Sylvester also pointed out that the city has stepped in to preserve industrial buildings before—it did a few years ago with Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre.
The City of Vancouver stated its commitment to protecting The Flats' arts and culture spaces in its False Creek Flats Planning Program, issued this past January. The document acknowledges that “the health of Vancouver’s arts and cultural sector relies heavily on The Flats.”
But Sylvester wants the city to show that they’re taking preservation of the site seriously.
“We don’t want a city where the most interesting thing is a steam clock. We need interesting communities, and we have that,” said Sylvester. “It’s been an enormous success. We’ve done what we were supposed to do. The city needs to pay attention to this, as does TransLink.”
Both directors say they have yet to be able to schedule a meeting with TransLink to discuss their concerns, but have set a meeting with Vancouver councillor Andrea Reimer for later this week.
Clark said he is approaching the discussions with an open mind, and is willing to work with TransLink for a solution that brings much needed transit to the area, while also retaining its character.
“We’re also excited for a train,” said Clark. “It’s important for me that it’s not us against TransLink. It’s not just about two small businesses. This is something much bigger than us.”