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Multimillion-dollar Olympic centre missing the mark

Vancouver built the $36 million Creekside Community Recreation Centre hoping it would be a hub for the new Olympic Village community….

By Heather Roy , in City Feature story Olympics , on October 20, 2011 Tags:

Vancouver built the $36 million Creekside Community Recreation Centre hoping it would be a hub for the new Olympic Village community. One year later, the building is open, but not enough residents are using it.

Creekside's brand new facility is located along the seawall in southeast False Creek.

“It’s definitely been a challenge and it’s been frustrating,” said Brenda Tang, the centre’s marketing coordinator. “We just don’t have the critical mass yet.”

Almost 200,000 people have visited Creekside since it opened in September 2010, according to the centre’s own figures.

Creekside sits on waterfront property with panoramic views of False Creek and downtown. It is located between two future developments not expected to be complete until 2018.

There are a number of finished buildings around the centre. However, almost 40 per cent of the units remain unoccupied.

“We do get families coming in and asking us about running programs for a certain age group,” said Tang, so “we’ll try to find an instructor, we’ll offer it, and it won’t run.”

Residents can suggest activities but, in order for the centre to create new programs, they need enough people to attend. So far they simply do not have the numbers.

Tang and other coordinators hope Creekside gets busier, but they understand it is going to take time.

Creating awareness that the community centre is open.

A repeat of history

The Roundhouse Arts and Community Recreation Centre experienced similar growing pains in 1997.

“When the Roundhouse came into completion and they were attempting to do the same thing [Creekside] is now, they went through probably a good three to five years of growth period,” she said, “in order for them to develop a community, for them to develop a board and then to be as successful as they are.”

Chin is a veteran with 20 years of Park Board experience. She believes time is what the centre needs.

Wendy Appleton was the recreation supervisor when Roundhouse first opened and learned to evaluate the needs of a changing community.

“The most important thing is that staff stay open to hearing what the community wants so that they can transform along with the community,” said Appleton.

It is more difficult to establish community centres in developing neighbourhoods than in established ones.

Hillcrest, in the South Main neighbourhood, is Vancouver’s newest community centre. It has had no difficulty attracting residents.

Peter Fox, the aquatic supervisor, says 1,377,363 have visited the aquatic and fitness centre since opening in July 2010. The new facility replaced Riley Park Community Centre which was built in 1964.

It can take longer to figure out programming and achieve high participation numbers in new areas because the wants and needs of residents are unknown.

Weighing success

“It’s a little bit of a chicken and an egg,” said Kirsten Robinson, a planner with the city’s Central Area Planning Department. “You don’t want all the services to go up first and have no residents to support them, but you also don’t want all the residents to go in first and have no services to support them.”

Olympic Village is difficult because the community centre and residential units had to be constructed for the Olympics, so the only other option is “that the community centre sits vacant, fully constructed and vacant, for a few years while the community builds out,” said Robinson.

Neither Chin nor Robinson find this option desirable or fair to the people living in the 453 units of 737 units already rented or sold.

Creekside offers access to water activities.

Membership at Creekside is slowly rising and a partnership with Dragon Zone has attracted people from all over the city that, along with boat rentals, could allow the centre to carve out a niche with water activities similar to what the Roundhouse has done with arts.

Other centres have found creative ways to help Creekside continue until more residents move in. “We send a lot of rental requests there because we don’t necessarily have the space,” said Margaret Watts, Roundhouse’s supervisor of recreation services.

“Our taekwondo program moved to Creekside because they could get total room space or many hours a week whereas here they couldn’t,” she said.

Challenges going forward   

Creekside is solely operated by the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation.

Most community centres have partnered with not-for-profits that help with both funding and community building.

“Not-for-profits can apply for grants and other things that we can’t because we are a government entity,” said Tang, “so that makes things a little bit different.”

Creekside relies on the Vancouver Park Board for both money and direction. The board is currently wrestling with escalating operating costs.

A not-for-profit partnership could help the facility gain insight into a community’s needs and, without that, “it’s like a shot in the dark. It’s like a gamble, ” said Chin.

“I believe that eventually we will have a thriving community that’s going to make very good use of this centre and we just sort of have to allow time and patience and for the growth to actually happen,” she said.