Suitors Circle Gastown’s Storyeum

A cabaret, fitness club, wine centre and tourist attractions could offer alternatives for the site

At least two tourist attraction operators are considering setting up shop in the former Storyeum site on Gastown’s Water Street, according to a series of e-mails obtained from the City of Vancouver through a BIV freedom of information request.

While one operator is a large international organization, the second appears to be locally based. Sections of the e-mails had been blacked out by city staff.

Other ideas for the prime downtown location include a cabaret, fitness club and a digital production facility in the building’s cavernous basement, as well as retail of varying sizes at street level.

A B.C. wine and culinary centre in collaboration with the BC Wine Institute, along with an arts and cultural centre featuring galleries and performance space, have also been touted as future tenants. And, at least one local community group is calling for the site to be turned into a homeless shelter.
Storyeum’s sets and audio and visual equipment have also been the subject of public inquiry.

Speculation over the building’s future has run rampant in recent months, as the city worked its way through legal and financial complexities associated with Storyeum’s demise last October. Local business organizations, such as the Gastown Business Improvement Society (GBIS), have expressed impatience over the pace of the process in e-mails to the city.

“They have been doing a good job of contacting us,” confirmed John Breckner, the city’s associate director of real estate services. “I would say that as much as they are anxious, I think perhaps now that at least GBIS Executive Director Leanore Sali as a representative of that group has been through the building, they have a better understanding of the challenges.”

BIV has also learned that a request for proposals for the former Storyeum site is due to be released by this week. “It is pretty well ready to go. It is pretty complete. It has the form of lease attached,” said Breckner in an interview. “People will get the full picture and should be able to make a complete submission.”

A decision about a new tenant is not likely to be answered until at least the fall.

“There is no possible way we can make that last council meeting on July 24, so there is no way at this point that would leave enough time for prospective tenants to respond and for us to analyze it,” he added.

The September 18 council meeting is the likely first chance for the Storyeum issue to come before council after summer recess, but Breckner is not making any promises. Late fall would likely be the earliest opportunity for a new tenant to take possession of the space. A single tenant would be easier and quicker in terms of occupying the space, said Breckner, who confirmed about half dozen large single occupancy tenants had so far approached the city.

“However, I highly believe there are some that will come forward that are not known to us at this point,” he added. There have also been offers to purchase the facility, but Breckner said the city has absolutely no plans to sell. The city is looking for the successful proponent to have a balance of fiscal and social responsibility, he added.

“Does that mean it is tourism? No. Is that what is needed there? If you asked the GBIS, there is some concern about tourism in the sense that perhaps it is a seasonal draw,” said Breckner. “The vision is perhaps of destination retail that draws people into the area all year round. What does that look like? I don’t know.”

Breckner said he has not been encouraging interested parties to send detailed plans.

“I don’t need to know details right now. Look at the space, see if it makes sense and then put your proposal to me. The rest is just talk.”

Andrew Petrozzi
from Business in Vancouver June 26-July 2, 2007; issue 922