Lonsdale waterfront grand vision unveiled, includes skating rink and ferris wheel

An artist
An artist's rendering shows Roger Brooks' vision for Shipyard Plaza, currently known as Lot 5, on the Lonsdale waterfront.
— image credit: Submitted photo

The Lonsdale waterfront is embarking on a new era — one that could include a grand ferris wheel and a skating rink five times the size of Robson Square.

Renowned tourism marketing master Roger Brooks delivered a high-octane presentation — his $25-million vision for the Lonsdale waterfront — Tuesday night that made city council’s heads spin, and caused at least one councillor to remark: “Wow, can you start this tomorrow?”

Last fall, Brooks put together a brand development team that includes representation from the city, stakeholder businesses and the Lower Lonsdale community at large.

From those meetings emerged the name “The Shipyards” to be used as a blanket brand for the waterfront area east of Lonsdale Quay. The Lower Lonsdale business district was also examined at the same time.

The number one goal of the brand development team, revealed Brooks, is to “slow the leakage.”

“That is, if you have people that live in the City of North Vancouver, heaven forbid they ever spend any money on the other side of the SeaBus...”

Shipyard Plaza — currently known as Lot 5 — will be the showcase piece in the waterfront puzzle, declared Brooks.

Proposed highlights for the integral “central gathering space” include a 15,000-square-foot skating rink that can be converted to a water park in the summer. There would also be a stage area, in front of which would be a scaled-down, Bellagio-style water feature (with nightly shows) that faces the waterfront.

The skating rink and amphitheatre area are covered by a flexible, white fabric roof illuminated by LED lights, and intended to be seen across the water in Vancouver.

Creating "third places" — hangouts outside of home and work — is the primary tenet of Brooks' tourism branding philosophy.

“Cities are headed to the European standard,” said Brooks, explaining how most towns in Italy are built up around a piazza or square that boasts inviting sidewalk cafes.

A microbrewery or two small restaurants with patio seating would be housed next door at Shipbuilders' Square, where there are also plans for a new North Vancouver museum. In total, there is 81,500 square feet of new retail and dining space available in The Shipyards.

If the area is to be established as a vibrant dining and arts and culture destination for tourists and locals alike, there needs to be a strategy for grouping similar businesses together.

“You know what, you will never go to a successful mall and find an architect’s office, a Salvation Army, a hodgepodge mix — they orchestrate the business mix,” said Brooks. “So there needs to be some of that in Lower Lonsdale where property owners work together on who they recruit.”

Ensuring businesses stay open late is a key component of the retail strategy. Brooks said he always tells merchants they are better off opening at 11 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. — than opening at 9 in the morning.

Nestled next to the Quay is Lonsdale Plaza, a pedestrian-friendly gathering area with a water feature, and Presentation House Gallery. Meanwhile, Brooks is recommending a self-funding, rubber-wheel trolley system that would run up and down Lonsdale every 15 minutes.

South of Esplanade Avenue, the plan is to close off the area to vehicle traffic (except buses) and create a streetscape in a revamped food and beverage district with a focus on outdoor dining.

Brooks also talked about the importance of creating a physical gateway to Lower Lonsdale in the form of an arch at Third Street and Lonsdale Avenue to “give that sense of arrival.”

Perhaps the biggest wow factor of the evening came when Brooks floated the North Van Great Wheel idea for the pier. He suggested a 175-foot-tall sphere with 42 fully-enclosed cabins, similar to a ferris wheel already in place on the Seattle waterfront.

“We have a private developer who would like to build this, we do not think the city should develop this,” said Brooks.

He concluded his presentation by telling council to not be afraid of the price tag for the waterfront project.

“This does not mean all $25 million has to be on the council’s backs,” said Brooks, who suggested the city explore, among other funding options, corporate sponsorship, lease revenues and public-private partnerships.

Brooks, who has already had 1,000 people weigh in on the waterfront vision through public engagement including an online survey, is imploring council to adopt the plan — which would be phased in over a decade — as a whole.

“And so I am begging you to just say: Staff, make it happen,” said Brooks. “The second you go back out there and say: Public, what do you think, what should we change… you are never going to get anywhere.”

Following Brook’s presentation, council had a chance to chime in. Coun. Rod Clarke broached the Business Improvement Area subject.

“…and so how integral to us going ahead is the BIA?” questioned Clarke.

Brooks said it’s important those behind the Lower Lonsdale BIA proposal have a plan in place beforehand.

“It’s really tough to form a BIA when they don’t know what you are going to do with their money,” said Brooks.

In terms of the trolley proposal, Coun. Don Bell wanted assurances that it would not step on the toes of TransLink’s bus operation in the area, and the system would be accessible for people with disabilities.

Coun. Pam Bookham questioned plans to move the fabled Flamborough Head to a new home in Waterfront Park.

“And I would think that if we move that stern one more time it has to go into a permanent display location. It cannot go on a temporary cradle,” said Bookham.

Earlier in the evening Brooks touched on the subject, saying the stern would be too large for Lot 5. He also couldn’t get a rough estimate on how much it would cost to restore the Flamborough, and suggested the private sector or local shipbuilding preservation enthusiasts could fund that project.

From the outset, Brooks told the packed council chambers that these were draft designs and there would be more iterations to come before the final “action plan” is delivered to council in approximately four weeks.

“We want you to be not just North Vancouver’s favourite gathering place — we want you to be Canada’s favourite gathering place.  And you can do it,” said Brooks.

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