The City of Vancouver will transform a former police station in the heart of the city’s Downtown Eastside neighbourhood into a workspace for technology companies and social enterprise businesses and organizations, the city announced October 3.
The building has sat empty since 2010, when the Vancouver Police Department moved its operations to a former Vancouver Olympic Committee building in east Vancouver.
The Vancity Community Foundation will lease the second floor of the building for a social innovation hub, and will sub-lease the space to organizations and businesses, some of which will have a community economic development or social enterprise focus.
“We see real benefit from a very diverse mix of organizations being involved,” Derek Gent, executive director of the Vancity Community Foundation, told Business in Vancouver. “There’s an extent to which some of the local non-profits learn from some of the businesses and some of the businesses learn from the non-profits.”
Plans for the former police station have been controversial, with community activists in the poverty-stricken neighbourhood speaking out against plans to turn the building into a tech startup incubator.
Meena Wong, mayoral candidate for COPE, stated she would like to see the space turned into social housing.
“I don't trust Vision to manage this property for the community,” wrote Wong in an email to BIV. “W2, a space also launched with grand promises for social enterprise, has been empty for two years. That doesn't help the economy.”
The Vancity Community Foundation is looking to other social innovation hubs in Canadian cities for possible models, such as Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation and Epic in Calgary.
The lease agreement with the city is in the process of being finalized, Gent said. But the intention is that the future tenants will pay market rent.
The commercial tenants of the building will use the first floor of the building as a community space, and will offer "programs, services and training," Tobin Postma, the City of Vancouver's communication manager, wrote in an email in response to an interview request from BIV. The city has already spent $1.1 million on upgrades to the building. The Vancity Community Foundation will be responsible for construction project management, property management and programming management services.
The city has no plans to turn the former police building into housing, wrote Postma.
Vancity contributed $1.5 million to the Vancity Community Foundation to honour the memory of Jim Green, the long-time Vancouver city councillor and social activist who died in 2012. That money will now be used to set up the space, Gent said.
The city will also likely pay for some tenant improvements as part of the lease agreement, Gent said.
“We’re starting with the second floor,” he said. “There’s certainly capacity for this to grow and expand but we’re starting with the second floor.”
In a press release, the City of Vancouver stated:
“The centre will support a broad range of entrepreneurs, social innovators, and non-profit organizations through incubation and acceleration programming, and through offering business services, financing and training for a variety of sectors including technology start-ups, sustainability and clean-tech, social enterprise and micro-enterprise.”