Dear Mayor and Council,
I am writing to ask that you take sides with the coalition of community groups opposing the current development proposal for 79 condominiums on the historic Pantages Theatre lots of 130-158 East Hastings. The Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, home to Vancouver’s last stock of low-income housing, is particularly vulnerable to gentrification. This block in particular is home to Insite, the Carnegie Centre, and hundreds of welfare-rate units.
Before undertaking a redevelopment of this scale, we must be extremely sensitive to potential social impacts and to the needs and aspirations of the existing community. In order to build on the existing community’s strengths, as we should, planning must be conducted with the highest standards of care, honesty, and democracy.
Unfortunately, the current development proposal is not about building community, but is about displacing community to make money. I have many reasons to believe that the developer and his proposal lack credibility:
1) The developer is profiteering off of the low-income community, turning a massive profit. The developer assembled the lots for less than two million dollars, then sat on the properties for years, then tried to sell the properties for over nine million dollars.
2) The developer doesn’t understand or respect the existing community. A recent press release calls the neighbourhood a “dead zone,” angering many residents. This lack of recognition and acknowledgement is at the heart of poor-bashing.
3) Due to neglect by the owner, many parts of the historic theatre were needlessly ruined and destroyed.
4) The illegal and unsafe demolition process, which had to be shut down by the City, and which has led to unnecessary fires, suggests that the developer is not competent to manage a large development in this sensitive neighbourhood, and that he operates without concern for residents.
5) The developer is in denial about the very real potential impacts of gentrification and displacement. Gentrification displaces not only affordable homes, but also affordable stores and accessible community spaces.
6) The developer acts as a front for Worthington Properties, which has a dubious and untrustworthy history; the developer has made efforts to conceal that connection.
7) We cannot trust that the cost of the condos will be as currently advertised, nor that the target demographic for these condos will be as advertised. There are no guarantees, and there is no trust. The developer is making empty promises only until the development application has been approved by the City.
The way I think about this development proposal is that it’s a poison pill with a not-so-tasty candy coating (18 social housing units are required, and some kind of artist space). Putting candy-coating on a poison pill is no “philanthropic” gesture. Please reject this application, and redouble efforts to save the site for the community.
Previous plans to restore the Pantages Theatre and build social housing were far superior to the current proposal. It is time to revive such plans without delay, and to bring the community together to come up with a plan we can all be proud of.