By Kenneth Chan
A new temporary use for the City Centre Motor Hotel in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant district will greatly benefit the local artist community.
After 67 years of operations, the motel ended its long history as a property for visitor accommodations earlier this fall, after it was acquired by Vancouver-based Nicola Wealth Real Estate for its redevelopment potential.
It will take years to fully complete the design and planning work for a redevelopment proposal and have an application filter through the City of Vancouver’s review process. This work is not expected to begin until the municipal government completes its ongoing planning process to create the Broadway Plan, which the property falls under. The Broadway Plan is slated to be finalized in late Spring 2022 at the earliest, and a subsequent rezoning application could take at least two years to see its approval.
In the meantime, through a partnership with The Narrow Group (TNG) and Vancouver Mural Fest (VMF), the property’s new owner is giving the motel a new short-term use by converting it into much-needed artist studio spaces. There is currently a shortage of affordable artist studios in the city, and the supply continues to shrink from building conversions and redevelopments.
TNG is perhaps best known for operating a number of restaurants in the immediate area on Main Street, especially its namesake, The Narrow Lounge, but it also has a portfolio of artist studio properties.
“All of us at the Narrow Group are so excited to be part of this amazing adventure. Mount Pleasant is about to be rocked by the biggest explosion of art and culture we have ever seen,” said David Duprey, principal of The Narrow Group.
“Our community is losing space for artists at an abysmal rate all over the city. Our whole team is just blown away by this great opportunity to create temporary affordable spaces in such a great location. The synergies with Mural Fest will truly enliven the neighbourhood.”
VMF’s beginnings have, of course, focused on transforming the streetscapes of Mount Pleasant, turning blank walls and surfaces into murals — all culminating with its annual summer festival in the district. In recent years, it has expanded its scope and reach to other areas of the city and grown its initiatives.
A mural commissioned by VMF already blankets the motel’s northern facade along East 5th Avenue and a portion of the laneway.
Through VMF’s involvement, there will be further major opportunities for murals across the motel building and special events held on the large surface parking lot.
“VMF is excited to help bring the creative potential of this project to life. Vancouver Mural Festival originated in Mount Pleasant, so it’s especially exciting for us to be a part of this new opportunity to support artists in the neighbourhood,” said Andrea Curtis, executive director of VMF.
“This collaboration aligns perfectly with our goal to support equity-deserving and under-represented local artists and cultural producers.”
The 1954-built, two-storey motel building sits on a 35,000 sq ft lot at 2111 Main Street — spanning the west side of the street between East 5th Avenue and East 6th Avenue.
It is considered a transit-oriented property, given that it is not only served by frequent north-south bus routes along Main Street but also SkyTrain’s future Mount Pleasant Station — a six-minute walk away to the intersection of Broadway and Main Street.
The motel’s temporary uses for artist studios and event space are expected to last for up to three years.
At this early stage of planning, the property owner has not indicated the potential uses the future permanent redevelopment could see. The redevelopment is dependent on what the finalized Broadway Plan prescribes for the site in terms of height, density, and land use.
“The City Centre Motor Inn is a well-known property in the city and in Mount Pleasant in particular. We’re excited to provide temporary life to the building before we redevelop the property,” said Josh Anderson, director of development for Nicola Wealth Real Estate.
“The intent of our collaboration with The Narrow Group and VMF is to facilitate a celebration of the local arts community and to provide temporary and much needed affordable options for art-space in Mt Pleasant.”
The property is within the easternmost edge of the city’s protected Mount Pleasant Industrial Area (MPIA), which permits a mix of office and creative industrial uses. However, some variances for other flexible uses could potentially be pursued through rezoning, as the site is directly on the Main Street corridor.
Adjacent developments provide an example of what is potentially achievable for the site.
Immediately to the north is Westbank’s city block-sized Main Alley tech campus at 2015 Main Street, where there will be over 500,000 sq ft of office, creative, industrial, and retail space in new and renovated buildings.
The first eight-storey new-build addition to Main Alley with about 150,000 sq ft of office and creative industrial space reached completion earlier in 2021. A parcel of Main Alley that faces the City Centre Motel is proposed to be developed into a 21-storey mass timber rental housing tower as the final phase.
Immediately to the south at 188 East 6th Avenue, a 10-storey building with 145 affordable rental homes and space for retail and restaurant uses recently reached completion.
There are also new residential developments along the east side of Main Street near East 2nd Avenue within the MPIA.