Canada Post Office Building – 349 West Georgia

Where we were – December 23, 2012

Canada Post announced in May 2011 that it planned to transfer operations from the Main Canada Post Office Building at 349 West Georgia to a new modern sorting plant near the Vancouver airport in Richmond. It also announced that it would sell the Post Office Building on Georgia Street and “examine all options to maximize the value” of the site to offset the cost of the new facility

In the fall of 2012, Canada Post put out a call for proposal, asking all interested parties to submit a bid to purchase the Post Office Building no later than November 15, 2012.

What we know about the Post Office Building

The Post Office building is on the City of Vancouver’s list of important modern buildings. It is not on the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Register and Canada Post has not placed any heritage protection status on the building. As a federally owned building more than 40 years old, the Post Office should be fully evaluated using the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office evaluation criteria so that its heritage value can be fully understood.

Canada Post as a Federal Crown Corporation is not obliged to follow this government policy. The Canada Post Building has no heritage protection and the eventual owner will not be required to maintain any of the building.

Knowing that the sale of this building was imminent and had no heritage protection, Heritage Vancouver ranked the Post Office #1 on its 2012 Top Ten Endangered Structures List.

The Post Office building is owned by the people of Canada and Vancouver and is currently being held in trust by Canada Post.

The existing Post Office Building has a density of 3.0 FSR and the City of Vancouver has stated that it anticipates all development proposals will deliver a minimum density of 7.0 FSR. Because of the City of Vancouver’s view corridor policy no development on this site can exceed a height of 24 stories. The City has stated that any rezoning would only be approved if it resulted in the achievement of significant public benefits. Examples of relevant benefits from past re-zonings include the retention of significant heritage values, provision of affordable housing, and provision of social or cultural facilities. All basic information related to current regulations and policy, as well as the possibility of rezoning is detailed in the Post Office Site Policy Information Note issued by the City on February 16, 2007 and revised on April 7, 2010.

There is approximately 600,000 square feet of available floor space. It is located at the centre of what could eventually become the cultural heart of the city. Within the immediate vicinity of the site are the new CBC complex, the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, and the recently renovated Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Additionally the adjacent City owned Larwill Park block remains under discussion as the potential site for a new building to house a relocated Vancouver Art Gallery.

The opening of the Main Post Office in 1958 marked a new phase in Vancouver’s development and growth as a regional centre in the postwar era.

The Canada Post building is one of Vancouver’s last completely intact mid century modern buildings. This McCarter & Nairne building is significant historically and architecturally at both broad and specific levels. Key to the public expression of the building is the Georgia Street façade complete with pedestrian colonnade, and the grand double height postal hall, which runs the full width of the building. The most impactful elements from the overall material palette include granite and marble cladding on columns and walls, terra cotta wall tiles – one of the last uses of this material in the city, – cast concrete wall panels, ceramic wall tiles, terrazzo floors, and aluminum window frames. In addition several traditional murals and bas-relief sculptures that were created specifically for the building remain in situ. The building also represents the strength of a Canadian Modernist architectural culture that was applied to civic and institutional projects throughout the city at this time.

Heritage Vancouver has taken the position that the overall historic integrity and most significant architectural features of the Canada Post building should be preserved and that the overall re development of the building and site should incorporate community and cultural uses and spaces which the City currently lacks. Several existing organizations have expressed an interest in relocating to the building.

Where we are going

Right now the future of the Post Office block is uncertain and is in the hands of Canada Post, the successful developer, and the City of Vancouver.

The building is located within the Downtown Official Development Plan. Under the this plan all development is discretionary. While it is impossible to anticipate the eventual uses, density, or form of future development it is known that, based upon the existing zoning and in combination with possible discretionary rezoning, density transfer, and heritage incentives, the redeveloped site could include buildings ranging in height from approximately 225 to 285 feet of mixed uses including commercial, market, rental, and affordable residential housing and social and cultural space.

What we could do

  1. We could express our ideas about the future of this building through this community communication centre
  2. We could request that Canada Post follow the guidelines set out by the Federal Government regarding federally owned buildings over 40 years old
  3. We could decide how much of this building we as a community want to retain
  4. Heritage Vancouver could host meetings with our community to generate ideas about the future of this building and report the results of the meeting to a wider audience
  5. We could involve all the people who live in Vancouver in exploring the future uses of their building
  6. We could let our governments know we want a meaningful say as a community on how much of this building we want protected and what the future use of the re-purposed building could be.
  7. We could tell the stories associated with this building, its operation, and the people who worked here including the fact that there is a tunnel linking this building to the old train station at the waterfront and that this tunnel used to be decorated for Halloween
  8. We could request that every job moved to Richmond from Vancouver be replaced with a job on this site.
  9. We could create a cultural centre on site including a large cultural institution such as the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Museum of Vancouver or a First Nations History Centre along with smaller spaces for a variety of artists.
  10. We could create a combination cultural space and work space for start up companies.

by Janet Leduc
Heritage Vancouver

Where we are – March 3, 2013

The Post Office building that was owned by the people of Canada and Vancouver was sold on January 25th, 2013 to British Columbia Investment Management Corporation, one of Canada’s largest institutional investment managers.

To date there has been no opportunity for people to have a say in what uses they would like to see in the building once it is no longer used by Canada Post. Right now the future of the Post Office block is uncertain and is in the hands of the successful owner/developer and the City of Vancouver.

Heritage Talks: Vancouver’s Main Post Office
The Role of the Community in Determining its Future

Heritage Vancouver is providing the community with the opportunity to express their ideas about the kind of uses they would like to see in the building. All comments will be passed along to the City of Vancouver and will be made available through community media. People who are unable to attend the conversation will have the opportunity to provide their ideas after the event.

To kick off the conversation we have invited, Philip Boname, of Urbanics Consultants, Patricia Bourque of Bourque Bruegger Architects, and Bruno Freschi, a distinguished architect best known for his role as chief architect for Expo 86 to talk to our community on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 7pm – 9 pm at 100 – 938 Howe St., Vancouver

Connections

Information

Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office – Government’s objective is to preserve its built heritage
British Columbia Investment Management Corporation

Opportunities

Making Room for Culture

Exploring for ideas

A Cultural Mecca
Arts Experience Centre
Canadian Craft Centre
Canadian Centre for Aboriginal Art and Culture
Intermediatheque

Media

Vancouver Post Office has potential as spectacular art space
Paul Delany – Vancouver Sun