Posted on October 09, 2015

MEC flagship’s move a sign of big changes to Broadway retail strip

October 8, 2015
By Frances Bula
The Globe and Mail

A decision by Vancouver’s legendary outdoor-equipment retailer to move its flagship store on Broadway to the new Olympic Village neighbourhood is about more than just a relocation.

It’s also a sign of the redevelopment wave coming along Broadway, as well as an unusual corporate decision by the owners of the land to where Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) will be moving.

The announcement this week that MEC’s main Vancouver store will relocate to a new, green building that will be constructed by the landowner, Beedie Development Group, is the first time many observers can remember in a long time that a developer has opted to build a commercial building in or near the downtown on a site where condos would have been permitted.

“They’ve chosen just to do the store. It’s certainly unusual that they’re not taking up the residential allowance,” said Vancouver’s assistant director of planning, Kent Munro.

The city declared a moratorium in 2009 on condo buildings in one part of the downtown core where a choice between offices or condos was allowed, because every owner was choosing condos and the city became worried about running out of future job space.

The MEC move is also a sign of the impending explosion of development along Broadway that is likely to bring many changes to that retail strip.

MEC chief executive David Labistour said the co-op, which has 4.5 million members in Canada, decided to move from the popular Broadway spot because “that site is a prime development site” and it was clear the owners would likely opt for development soon. The company said it couldn’t see how it would be able to function on Broadway in the midst of redevelopment, so it started looking elsewhere. Its current store, assessed at $33-million, is owned by a corporation whose directors are Jack Leshgold and Michael Chechik.

Mr. Munro said the city is hearing a lot of interest in redevelopment along the corridor, Vancouver’s busiest arterial.

“We’ve had inquiries all up and down Broadway,” he said.

Owners along Broadway are allowed to build up to three times the total lot area. That has resulted in some new medium-sized towers in recent years.

Both MEC and Beedie representatives say the unusual decision to move such a big commercial operation to the still-emerging Olympic Village neighbourhood is exciting – and fits with their different missions.

Beedie has a long history of constructing commercial buildings that it maintains ownership of, said Houtan Rafii, a Beedie vice-president.

“If we had built condos, we would have had a much greater profit short term. But we have retained ownership of 99 per cent of the buildings we have ever built,” he said. The new building will be three storeys, with a green roof and a geothermal energy system. MEC will occupy the two bottom storeys. The value of the land is currently assessed at $17-million.

Teaming up with MEC was ideal because it gave the company a chance to “work with such a great, iconic brand,” he said.

Mr. Labistour said the new building gives MEC an opportunity to develop a landmark building, with features that express its environmental values.

“It was a really good position for something different,” he said. The site will be near several of the city’s well-used bike routes, as well as public transit and the False Creek waterfront.

The building, expected to cost more than $30-million to construct, will be designed by Proscenium Architecture, which also designed MEC’s recently completed headquarters a couple of kilometres to the east of where the new store will be. It’s anticipated to open in 2018.

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