When I met Thomas, I immediately became fascinated by the project he is involved in. On the surface, he is part of the team that is creating a co-working space, but if you dig a little deeper, you find that much more is at stake. I’m so pleased that he has decided to share the DNA of his project with us. Ladies and gentlemen - here’s a guy on a special mission.
What is your background and how did you get involved in the project?
I am an urban planner and real estate development advisor. I am the owner of TB Real Estate Co, which is a firm that provides support to developers in and around Vancouver, British Columbia. The guiding principal of the work I undertake is to contribute to real estate development that maximizes the assets available for the health, wellbeing and prosperity of future generations. I became involved in the project to revitalize 312 Main Street three years ago when I met Mr. Bob Williams while completing my Masters in Urban Planning. Mr. Williams has been a member of the Board of Directors at Vancity Credit Union for the past thirty years. Vancity is a Vancouver based cooperative financial institution with assets approaching $20 billion.
What is the background to the project you are involved in?
312 Main is the former Vancouver Police Department headquarters. It is a 100,000 square foot building owned by the City of Vancouver. Symbolically, this building has been a flashpoint in the Downtown Eastside neighoborhood’s struggle for a compassionate and just society. The project is currently at the design stage and renovations will be commencing shortly. The first phase of occupancy is set to be in 18-20 months. The redevelopment of 312 Main is a unique collaborative effort between the Vancity Community Foundation and the City of Vancouver.
The idea for this project was germinating when I first met Mr. Williams. He had set out to pursue this project in remembrance of his late friend Jim Green, a hard-nosed community organizer and developer of social housing in Vancouver. The vision for the project was to create an inclusive centre that would build economic capacity within the Downtown Eastside community, an area that has been subject to much pain and difficultly participating our conventional economic system.
The transformation of 312 Main is set to be a continuation of the unparalleled work that Jim Green completed over his career, most notability, with his involvement with the Woodwards department store redevelopment. This is a 1.2 million square foot mixed use development, including 200 units of social housing, a Contemporary Arts University, and office space for local NGO's. It was developed by Westbank Projects and designed by Henriquez Partners Architects.
What is the ultimate goal of the project?
The rehabilitation of this building will be designed to enhance the physical elements that are conducive to cooperation, collaboration, and shared services, and to acknowledge the history of the building in the neighborhood. Offering a spectrum of spaces and promoting different types of interactions, 312 Main will strengthen civic life amongst tenants and the local neighborhood while building economic opportunities. These opportunities will create employment, encourage skills development, and leverage the impact created by social and technological innovations.
How is coworking part of the project?
Spaces will suit different needs including open offices and coworking desks, maker space and studios, conventional offices, meeting rooms, and vibrant common areas with places for local cooks to feed tenants and their guests. The main floor will be designed to be porous to different ideas and interests, where the public and private spheres can readily mingle through the formal and informal programming that is delivered there.
What is the biggest challenge facing the project going forward?
The coordination of a shared vision between the many diverse groups involved is the most challenging aspect of the project.
What is your take on a solution (if you have one)?
Constant and clear communication between all stakeholders is the most important element to any development project. People must feel included, respected and welcomed to participate in the process. Collectively, everyone has much to contribute. If engagement is completed sensitively and respectfully, throughout the entire planning, execution and operational phases of a project, people can be empowered to participate in a way that adds value that may have been hidden initially.
Where do you see the place in 5 - 10 years?
I see 312 Main being known as a place where Vancouver took major leap towards developing an inclusive new economy. It will be a space that honours stories of the past and transforms this energy into narrative of rebirth, reconciliation and vitality.
How do you envision cowoking in 10 - 20 years?
I believe coworking will become a widely adopted and normalized office space typology. These venues will be providing an important amenity to the bourgeoning self-employment and micro entrepreneurial sector. Demand and diversity of coworking venues will continue to grow as people realize its suitability to a flexible economy, where limited supply of real estate in global urban centres renders conventional office space out of reach for a significant number of companies.
Thanks Thomas, may your project flourish and bring the changes, you describe. We look forward to following it.