A ground-breaking ceremony Thursday morning marked the official start of construction on the long-awaited fourth and final tower of the Vancouvercenter.
A crowd of more than 100 guests from developer Holland Partner Group and the City of Vancouver gathered on the construction site at the corner of Washington and Sixth streets to watch Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, CEO Clyde Holland and other dignitaries turn over the ceremonial first shovelfuls of dirt.
In a moment that emphasized just how long the wait has been, McEnerny-Ogle asked the crowd how many of them remembered the Vancouvercenter blocks back when they were home to Lucky Lager Brewing – and only a few hands went up.
The mixed-use Vancouvercenter project began construction in 2000, six years after the city of Vancouver purchased the former brewery site to the east of Esther Short Park, which had been closed for almost a decade.
The first three buildings were built more than a decade ago by developer Vandevco, and the foundations for the fourth building were completed as part of the underground parking garage beneath the block. But the tower itself was never built, due in part to the 2008 recession.
The southeastern quadrant of the site has been fenced off ever since, empty apart from a couple of concrete and metal sheds that were built as caps on top of the protruding rebar for the future building’s elevator shafts.
That situation made for a somewhat unconventional ground-breaking on Thursday, since nearly all of the surface of the site was already covered with finished concrete.
“We thought we’d be able to run the jackhammers,” McEnerny-Ogle joked.
But there was still some dirt at the edges of the site, and the crowd stood on the concrete pad while the golden shovel crew lined up on a narrow strip of dirt at the edge of Washington Street.
The dormant site actually returned to life about a month ago, but Holland said until now the work crews have been focused on removing the temporary shelter structures and top layer of soil, washing the concrete and preparing the site for new construction.
New concrete pouring is scheduled to start next week, Holland said.
The start of construction marks the end of a long waiting period for all parties involved, including Holland Partner Group. The company reached a revised development deal with the city in 2017 and officially purchased the rights to the fourth tower from Vandevco a few months later, but Holland said the firm’s preliminary work on the project began much earlier.
“We first started working on this in 2006, so we’re very excited to be underway,” Holland said.
The other three Vancouvercenter buildings include a mix of apartments, condominiums, office and retail space, and the fourth tower will add 118 apartments to the block, along with 2,200 square feet of additional restaurant and retail space on the ground floor. Twenty percent of the apartments are planned to be workforce housing.
The new apartments will range from studios up to large two-bedroom units, Holland said, and are intended to provide more housing for downtown Vancouver’s growing workforce. The fourth tower project is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2020, he said.