Olympic village neighbourhood slowly shedding its image as a ghost town


As coffee shops go, so goes the neighbourhood.

Based on that well-known Vancouver maxim, indications are that the Olympic Village is shedding its image as a ghost town where no one walks the streets.

Dog walkers, joggers and mothers with strollers have found a meeting spot at the new Terra Breads Cafe, one of a handful of shops at the Olympic Village, which has been renamed the Village at False Creek.

And all the bustle at the central plaza, not just from villagers but neighbours as well, has created a buzz in the area for the first time since the 2010 Olympic Games ended.

“I had the impression it would be pretty quiet when we opened the store in September,” says Terra’s head baker Mary Mackay. “But we started off with a bang and have kept going.

“We knew the location was gorgeous,” she says.

The $1 billion village, a collection of 1,100 condos in a dozen buildings, has been plagued by financial problems since Millenium Developments ran short of funds more than three years ago.

But the city, which assumed responsibility, has been filling up empty suites in 2011 under the auspices of court-appointed receiver Ernst and Young.

The most recent figures available show 74 per cent occupancy and more than 170 units sold this year at prices which were slashed more than 30 per cent.

The city’s debt on the project is $446 million, which will be reduced by future sales. But $170 million owed on the land purchase will probably never be recovered.

And glitches remain with the high-tech, cutting edge green technology which draws heat from sewage and is meant to deliver rainwater to toilets.

Resident David Hocking, who is president of a strata council for about 120 suites, says the rainwater collection system still isn’t functioning properly.

“There was too much algae growing in the system. The water is not turning brown like it was a year ago, but it’s still not fit to go through the toilets. We’re using treated water,” he says.

Hocking says the strata is getting some waterproofing fixed on the building’s exterior while warranties are still in effect.

“The buildings were well-built, but they were in a rush at the end. We’re satisfied the problems are being addressed,” he says.

He says some sections of the development still lack tenants, like a couple of buildings on the northwest corner where the Canadian team stayed during the Games.

“The village feels like it’s three-quarters full,” he said.

Although Terra Breads is booming, the all-important anchor tenants at the plaza are still vacant and an old refurbished wooden warehouse which residents call the barn is also empty.

But a large drugstore and an urban grocery store will finally open in May after remaining shut for almost two years.

“The delay was totally created by the real estate challenge. By contract, London Drugs required a certain amount of traffic in the area,” says store president Wynne Powell.

He says the landlord has assured him that a sufficient percentage of the village will be sold by next spring to enable the store to open profitably.

“In years to come, this will be recognized as a very good development. When you look around the world, this is a tremendous location,” he says.

“Announcing a firm date to open our store is a vote of confidence in the project. I think it has turned the corner,” Powell says.

Other stores currently drawing in traffic are an environmentally friendly laundry, bank and liquor outlet.

Nearby resident Emily Murgatroyd believes there has been a pent-up demand for places where people can go for a chat.

“Terra Breads is packed every day. It’s added a sparkle to the neighbourhood,” she says.

Murgatroyd says people are finally being enticed into the area.

“Certainly there is a feeling of energy here. It doesn’t have that ghost town feel anymore,” she says.


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