Posted by: VPSN | January 19, 2011

Studying the Art Gallery move and the return of Larwill

BPO Elks Circus - Cambie Grounds

B.P.O. Elks Circus, at the Cambie Street Grounds (Larwill Park) – 1 May 1926. 
CVA Reference – 99-1549

Among the many Council items on the docket tomorrow is a staff report on the possible relocation of the Vancouver Art Gallery.  The report addresses the 688 Cambie Street location that the VAG currently has their eyes on (the giant parking bordered by Georgia, Dunsmuir, Cambie and Beatty).  And while it doesn’t give a ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ either way, it does give the VAG  two years to come up with a funding plan for the site, a comprehensive review of the various options for relocation and a number of other items.

And, as an added bonus – which makes us quite happy – the report also directs staff to investigate the possibility of locating a public plaza “fronting Georgia Street” as part of this process.  Given that the site in question used to be one of Vancouver’s premier gathering places, this could mean the creation of a brand new public space.  May we be first to suggest the name “Larwill Square“?

VPSN Chair Erin O’Melinn wrote a short letter noting our support for the report – and also took the opportunity to suggest to City Council that additional planning work also needs to be done for the existing VAG site at Robson Square.  Here’s an excerpt from the letter:

Although our organization does not have a formal position on the Art Gallery move, we nevertheless recognize the need to secure the site at 688 Cambie Street so that the appropriate research and planning work can take place. 

Furthermore, we are particularly supportive of Recommendation E – pertaining to the investigation of options for the development of a public plaza fronting Georgia Street.  Regardless of whether the VAG moves into the site, we feel that the 688 Cambie Street location is ideally suited to development as a public space – and that this would increase the cultural, social, and physical connectivity in that neighbourhood.  Not only is this the former site of Larwill Park – one of the city’s chief gathering spaces in the early-to-mid 20th century – but the location is particularly well suited because of its proximity to the Georgia Steps, key cultural facilities, transit and cycling infrastructure.

Our hope is that the public realm aspect of the discussion can be kept in sharp focus. There is great potential for the area to become more of a cultural and economic centre, and a more welcoming place for people to connect to amenities such as the library, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Playhouse, CBC, and the many cultural and retail facilities in the Downtown and Downtown Eastside.  To that end, we would request that the discussion around a plaza at this location also be referenced in the Downtown Public Space Plan that you requested staff to produce on December 2, 2010.

Finally, we also wish to note that any relocation of the VAG also has the potential to create a significant impact on the Court House site and Robson Square.  These are also vitally important public spaces in Vancouver.  We would request that Council also direct staff, in consultation with the public and key stakeholders, to explore future options for this site.  In this regard, if the VAG does move, there will be a transition strategy in place to ensure that these sites retain – or improve – their present day role in the public life of the city.

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