Aug. 21, 2016 – Translated from 明報 Ming Pao
Another Chinatown building sold at high price
Concern group worries gentrification could lead to loss of traditional storefronts
Ming Pao A8 August 21, 2016
The worry about gentrification and the loss of more Chinese storefronts is being raised once again following the sale of a street corner building in Chinatown that could be demolished and rebuilt as a nine or even 12-storey tower.
Despite repeated fights and ongoing calls for more affordable housing and saving more low-rent storefronts in Chinatown, the situation has been getting worse and Chinatown is becoming less and less affordable particularly for those low-income Chinese seniors, according to Wai-on [Leung] of the Chinatown Concern Group.
With more and more high-end restaurants and shops moving into the area, low-income Chinese seniors are losing a place where they (can afford to) spend and socialize.
According to the realtor’s website, the two-story building at the corner of Keefer and Gore has recently been sold at a high price and that has added to people’s worry about whether this would follow the footstep of others Chinatown properties that have been demolished for redevelopment. It’s doubtful whether the current Chinese barbecue, seafood and dried food stores would be kept after the rebuilding. Owners of the stores in this building, when asked about their future, all say they have no idea what the changes will be after the building changes hand and ask the reporter to inquire with the owner.
The two-story structure which was built in 1962 is situated in a block with HA-1A zoning and it can be rebuilt as a 90-foot tower, and if an application is approved, go up to 120 feet. The net rent for the current building is $166.800.
According to 2006 census data, the median income for the area was $17,658 compared with $47,299 for the city as a whole.
A more recent report by First Call B.C. found that the child poverty rate in Chinatown in 2013 was a staggering 59 per cent.
A three-year economic plan, in conjunction with a longer term neighbourhood plan, was introduced by the city in 2012 to address concerns about the growing number of closing storefronts in Chinatown, city planner Karen Hoese said.
The strategies allowed for taller buildings in select areas of Chinatown to bring more residents into the neighbourhood, with the catch of requiring developers to contribute new amenities like community centres in return for the extra height on new construction.
It also protected historic facades and set standards for new buildings to match the unique esthetics of the neighbourhood.
However, Hoese said while the city can control the look and density of new buildings, it can’t regulate the culture created by the people and businesses that move in.
“We can’t discriminate against users of the area, we can’t determine who the residents are or who rents out storefronts,” Hoese said.
Leung said when it comes to Chinese stores disappearing from the face of Chinatown, it’s not like there’s nothing that the City can do, pointing to the legacy project launched by City of San Francisco which to a certain extent provided protection for some old storefronts. Leung thinks some of the businesses in Vancouver’s Chinatown, such as the barbecue stores, should also be protected.
Meanwhile, the building height limit in Vancouver is taller than that of San Francisco and this has led to the current displacement of traditional businesses by high-end stores.
But not everyone is so pessimistic and Kwok-tung Cheng who recent opened an AI&OM Knifes store on Pender Street , thinks more businesses will increase the vitality of Chinatown.
He said things are starting to change within that block of Pender as people could be seen lining up overnight in front of a youth fashion shop to snap up newly released sport shoes or clothing. A number of restaurants will also re-op and they will for sure bring in more customers so he is very optimistic about the business opportunities and economic future of that section of Pender.