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Opposition airs doubts over planned DTES hi-tech hub

Opposition parties have criticized Vision over its plans to redevelop an old police station in the Downtown Eastside into a…

By Ricardo Khayatte , in City Feature story , on October 27, 2014 Tags: , , , ,

Old police station in the DTES to be converted into tech hub
The plan is to convert the old police station in the DTES into hi-tech hub

Opposition parties have criticized Vision over its plans to redevelop an old police station in the Downtown Eastside into a hi-tech centre.

Ahead of the local elections in November, the NPA and COPE are questioning how far the centre will benefit local residents.

“Until we work on social conditions for the residents there, we’re going to have some difficulty in developing the area without the consent of the wider community,” said mayoral candidate and NPA leader Kirk LaPointe.

The empty 100,000 square foot building sits blocks away from Oppenheimer Park. The recently dismantled tent city at the park brought issues of homelessness and affordable housing to the forefront.

‘Sexy strategy’ under fire

COPE city council candidate Keith Higgins in Downtown Eastside
COPE’s Keith Higgins: No revitalization for the rest of the area

The centre has been in the works for over two years and has met with substantial resistance including calls for social housing options by activist groups such as the Carnegie Community Action Project.

The left-leaning COPE has also expressed reservations about how this project will affect the neighbourhood.

“They’re going to pursue what sounds to them like a very sexy strategy – to open this hub for incubating tech start-ups and social enterprises,” said city council candidate Keith Higgins for COPE.

“People wearing their passcards or IDs around their neck get through security and walk from their office to a nice bar, coffee shop, or restaurant.  There’s no revitalization for the rest of the neighbourhood,” he said.

Commercial venture

The Vancity Community Foundation has partnered with the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Economic Commission to develop this project over the last two years.

The foundation is providing $1.5 million in funding. It has spent approximately $50,000 to date on planning what is proposed to house digital and clean technology companies as well as social enterprises.

Vision has been in power since the 2005 elections. In that time, it has made attracting hi-tech companies a priority.

The City of Vancouver has told its partners that the building is not intended as a subsidized space but a for-profit opportunity.

“The conditions from the city are that we run this up to market.  There may be funders that help out but the intention is to rent this out at market rates,” says Derek Gent, Executive Director at Vancity Community Foundation.

The types of businesses that will be filling the space are yet to be determined.  The main focus, as Gent furthers, “is really on getting the space occupied.”

No official launch date has been released by the city at this stage of the development process.

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