St. Paul's Hospital move a rare opportunity for East Van

In somewhat symbolic fashion St. Paul’s Hospital is moving to East Van, much like the rest of the city.  Two big questions, out of several, are what this means for those of us who live, work and own businesses here, and what it means for those who do the same near the current hospital location? As my counterpart at the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Area, Charles Gauthier, was quick to point out on social media, having a large institution like a hospital in any community is a major economic driver. With several hundred if not thousands of staff, construction of new hospitals and universities can reanimate entire local economies or gentrify and displace existing communities depending on how managed. This Wednesday May 27th residents of Vancouver are invited to the launch of the City’s False Creek Flats Planning Process at Circle Studio, 390 Industrial Avenue (4:30 PM), where the St. Paul’s move will no doubt be a big part of the discussion.

So what are the implications of this move? And what opportunities does it present? At last year’s International Downtown Association and BIABC Conference in Victoria I had the opportunity to listen to Eric Goldstein speak about a case of this from Philadelphia. Eric is the Executive Director of the King of Prussia District and Former Executive Director of the University City District. Catalyzed by escalating violence and an on campus murder that had occurred in the 1990s the massive redevelopment of the University City District in Philadelphia has completely transformed that part of the city. The redevelopment was driven largely by the campus medical school’s expansion, with its many research centres and facilities creating new jobs and a subsequent “multiplier effect” in that part of the city. New services, retail shops, restaurants and coffee shops to cater to the thousands of more students and employees, visitors and patients who were now studying, working or being treated in the area - and of course the construction of new housing too.

Here in Vancouver, some argue that Woodwards is having the same effect in the DTES, or Central City in Surrey. These types of large-scale redevelopments bring incredible opportunity and very real risks to communities, as processes of speculation and displacement of both residents and the local shops we rely on are almost always put in motion as a result. Only now is retail gentrification beginning to be seriously examined in Vancouver after years of activism calling to attention displacement of housing and residents. As new businesses continue to be attracted to lower income areas of our city we need to work to also protect and retain affordable small business space for local residents, mid-income and lower income residents who are seeing communities dramatically impacted by land economics that make local independent entrepreneurs running a business in Vancouver almost as unfeasible as them owning a home here.

But here’s to the opportunity, and one that draws from Vancouver’s relatively recent experience with another major redevelopment just a few blocks away from this proposed one – Olympic Village and its Community Benefits Agreement.

In 2009 I was working at the Community Economic Development agency Building Opportunities with Business (BOB), hammered together via all three levels of government through the Vancouver Agreement, with support from the private sector. BOB oversaw the creation and implementation of Vancouver’s first large scale Community Benefits Agreement which saw several hundred thousands of dollars invested into training and skill development for residents of the DTES. It also aided in drawing in over $20 million dollars in procurement to East Vancouver's manufacturers, services and suppliers. In total over 120 residents were placed in construction jobs and hundreds more assisted in finding employment with businesses who benefited from that multiplier effect through a very successful supported employment program.

I remain proud of the work my colleagues and I did at BOB, but there were many lessons learned about how Vancouver could do this better if given another shot. We missed that shot with BC place stadium. The St. Paul’s move to False Creek Flats is potentially our next big chance. We should start planning for that sooner than later and incorporate a world class Community Benefits Agreement into the overall project scope. One that not only seizes the opportunity for training, jobs and procurement strategies, but will also consider the after-effects of such a large scale project and empower communities to better manage and leverage change as we welcome new community assets and successfully retain existing ones- including housing, services and local businesses.

These chances only come once in a while. It will be worth the investment.

If elected to serve as the next Member of Parliament for Vancouver East I will work to see that just such a CBA is created in partnership with local communities. I will work to bring the needed funding and resources to it as both the Province and Federal Government will, and should be involved in a number of ways on this project. Here is an amazing opportunity for all three levels of government to partner with one another and local communities on an initiative that can address so many challenges and opportunities at once.

If St. Paul's is moving here let's not miss out on this rare chance.