Kingsgate Mall, a Vancouver School Board owned site may be up for sale for private development. The site of a former school, the mall has become an important fixture serving the basic needs of the people living in the area, many of whom are working class.
There is concern about losing the potential of what could be built that contributes to the neighbourhood and demographic context in Mount Pleasant.
As Mount Pleasant developed as a mixed industrial, residential and commercial neighbourhood in the 1880s, the neighbourhood’s first schoolhouse was built in 1888 with a number of additions to follow at the corner of what is now Main and Broadway. In 1972, the school was demolished and students were moved to a new school located where Mount Pleasant Elementary currently is on Guelph and 8th. (For an account of the history of the school site, please take a look at local historian and author of the book Mount Pleasant Stories, Christine Hagemoen’s page here.)
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) which owns the site to this day, had Kingsgate Mall built, opening in 1974. The mall is leased to local developer The Beedie Development Group.
Through the past ten years, there has been talk of a possible sale of the site. In 2015 construction of the Independent across the street on Kingsway was happening and it was reported that Beedie suggested a redevelopment of the site with added density, promoting it as a transaction that would be mutually beneficial to the company and the VSB.
In 2019, then (and current) VSB trustee Jennifer Reddy wrote an opinion piece in the Tyee titled “Why Selling Kingsgate Mall Would be Bad for Vancouver Schools, and the City”. Financially, the VSB is not in good shape and a sale to generate some money would seem attractive.
In summer of this year, in a court dispute over back rent with Beedie, it was reported that the VSB told the judge that it was intending to sell the Kingsgate Mall site with a market value of apparently 250 million dollars.
In a Vancouver that has big aspirations for limitless growth and glamour, Kingsgate Mall seems out of place. Called a “blast from the past” and “back to basics Kingsgate Mall” by Global News in a story this August showing community reaction to the possible loss of the mall, many feel at home and welcome there.
There is a good amount of discussion on Reddit and the mall has gained cult status with its unusual mix of shops and activities including church services, mall walking, and as the co-star in a music video. The shops are basic and without prices that are too out of reach for people in the area that do not have higher incomes.
As the Broadway Plan brings massive change to Broadway, the working class demographic is more and more at risk of losing shops and services that support them and their needs. In a neighbourhood that has rapidly gentrified, Kingsgate Mall is one of the remaining survivors.
Why on Top10
Now and then, some commentators on Vancouver’s housing crisis mention cities such as Vienna as a model for a solution. The typical response is that Vancouver and Vienna are incomparable because much of the land is publicly owned there. However, our having less publicly owned land does not mean it is wise to sell more of the little we have.
There is a view that, particularly with the Broadway Plan’s intent to usher in tens of thousands of residents, the area needs social infrastructure like schools and that the Kingsgate Mall site could have a school along with different forms of housing, especially more affordable housing as opposed to market housing.
Additionally, there are strong views against selling public land. Earlier in the year, parents banded together to try and stop the sale/lease of a part of the Graham Bruce Elementary play field (the VSB has at moment suspended what it calls “the engagement process for the surplus declaration” of the school field. With the Skeena Terrace redevelopment near Boundary and Broadway, the site remaining under BC Housing ownership is considered positive in contrast to the sale of Little Mountain. Supposedly, you can do much more with public land in reaching social aims than if it is sold to a private developer looking for market returns.
In our view of heritage, because Kingsgate Mall is so tied to the daily lives, identities and needs of the people living in the area, tearing it down requires that whatever replaces it serves the needs of the community even better than it did before.
We acknowledge the financial assistance of the Province of British Columbia