Everyone Wants a Piece of Emily Carr University’s Granville Island Property

ECUAD's impending exit from Granville Island will open up a huge chunk of the area's building stock.

May 24, 2017

By Tessa Vikander / Photo: Garnet

In a city where it seems like every inch of land is spoken for and bidding wars are routine, the 200,000 square feet of soon-to-be-available, rent-controlled, condo-free space on Granville Island is a very rare gem. Emily Carr University of Art and Design (ECUAD) is still months away from its big move from Granville Island to its new campus in the False Creek Flats, but already schools, arts groups and entrepreneurs are jostling to snag space in what will become its former home. The winners of this real-estate jackpot will shape the island for decades to come.

Granville Island began its transformation from industrial wasteland to cultural hub in the 1970s. Back then, the federally owned land, managed by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), received a mandate for urban experimentation, which directed that 125,000 square feet be set aside for studio space for artists, glass-blowers, woodworkers, potters and the like. As of 2012, however, that sector held only a third of the promised cultural residents, while retail shops held more than twice the 35,000 square feet they were initially allotted. Jessica Schauteet, director of Kroma Artist’s Acrylics and president of the Granville Island Business and Community Association, sees opportunity in ECUAD’s exit for the island’s mandate to finally be fulfilled.

Emily Carr University, Granville Island

“We have this opportunity to deinstitutionalize these incredibly interesting buildings,” she says, suggesting that young people without a lot of money—like her mentors, who founded Kroma on Granville Island in the 1970s—should be prioritized for mixed-use space. “I’m a believer that ideas need time and space, really, more than money.”

Red Gate Arts Society is one organization salivating over the island’s tightly controlled rent and freedom from municipal zoning restrictions. A non-profit group providing art studios and venue space to visual artists, musicians and performers, Red Gate is eyeing ECUAD’s waterfront north building. Director Ana Rose Carrico says her organization is “bursting at the seams” and unable to secure a new long-term lease at its current East Hastings Street location, where it’s been paying about $7,500 a month for 7,000 square feet. “We’ve been looking for a forever home for a while,” she says. The CMHC will not specify how much it will charge non-profit organizations for former ECUAD space, but under current lease practices similar groups pay a tiny fraction—10 to 20 percent—of market rates in other spaces managed by the CMHC.

As one of the few areas in the city destined to stay distinctly non-residential, says Carrico, Granville Island has the potential to become “a vibrant cultural epicentre at night,” and Red Gate, popular for its late-night dance parties, could be a perfect fit. “We definitely deal in the nighttime economy and I think Granville Island could really benefit from that.”

“We have this opportunity to deinstitutionalize these incredibly interesting buildings.” —Jessica Schauteet, Director, Kroma Artist’s Acrylics

A much larger, more well-heeled institution is also aiming for island digs. Langara College wants to move its arts programs from its South Vancouver campus to the south ECUAD building on Johnston Street. According to vice president Ajay Patel, the move would give Langara’s creative industry programs “a visible hub,” in return for a guaranteed injection of 2,500 students’ worth of foot traffic to the island. If granted the space, Langara’s web development, journalism, photography, and Aboriginal carving programs, and others, would move in.

So far, the CMHC is mum on its plans, but Lisa Ono, manager of public affairs for Granville Island, hinted at what the future may hold. The south building will likely remain earmarked for arts education, with the provincial government, the long-term leaseholder on the building, to recommend who should occupy it next. The north building could become an innovation hub for artists and artisans, with space for day and evening use as well as cafés and pubs.

The new tenants won’t be determined until at least 2018, when the call for proposals is due to go out, but Red Gate’s Carrico says one thing is for sure: there won’t be any shortage of applicants. “I wouldn’t be surprised if almost every arts group in the city would be interested.”

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