Public Opinion: Is Redevelopment destroying Vancouver’s Culture?


One of Main Street’s most well-known Restaurants, The Rumpus Room, is now closed for redevelopment
The Rumpus Room is now closed for redevelopment

Well folks, it happened. The 3-year tenancy of one of Main Street’s most busy and well-known restaurants, The Rumpus Room, has come to an end. With it goes an impressive collection of 70s era knickknacks and a flurry of unemployed flamingos, now looking for a new patio to festoon with their colourful plastic feathers. As the birds take flight into the ongoing wake of development projects that reach through just about every neighborhood between English Bay and Burnaby, the question on my mind: How much longer can Vancouver hang on to its remaining cultural centers—be they eateries, art galleries, music venues, or vintage shops—and where does the city draw the line between preserving culture and creating housing projects?

Construction of the Westbank Tower, a high-density housing project on Main St.
Construction of the Westbank Tower, a high-density housing project on Main St.

With the high-density Westbank Tower now well under construction, Main Street’s methodical redesign is in full swing, and residents of the area can’t seem to prevent it. An online petition which reached over 2,500 signatures in an effort to stop the demolition of the Rumpus Room has had no effect on the outcome. In a recent interview with Vancouver Weekly, Rumpus Room co-owner David Duprey said that while he appreciates the community support, there wasn’t much hope of stopping destruction in the first place.

“Most new leasing contracts come with a demolition clause, which means that after a specific amount of time a landlord can make the decision to render a lease void,” says Duprey, “there wasn’t much we could do about it.” Duprey hopes to find a new home for the Rumpus Room, but has doubts that anything will match its previous location. “The city is really into knocking old things down… Vancouver is a developer’s paradise, and it’s resulting in a continued loss of our cultural space.”

So the question is raised: When does the city deem it fit to preserve rather than destroy a cultural building? Anne McMullin, President and CEO of Urban Development Institute, Pacific Region, gave her insight on the topic.

“It’s about determining the balance sheet,” says McMullin, “The city has to consider a range of things, from land costs, building costs, upgrade costs, if the business is viable or not… It costs a lot of money to bring an old building up to our current standards of safety and energy efficiency, and someone has to pay those fees.”

The city has stepped in to preserve buildings in the past, evident in the recent case of Kitsilano’s Hollywood Theatre. Development plans were halted after a proposal to redevelop the building into a fitness center was met with staunch objection from the city’s art community. Counter-proposals to create a city-owned non-profit venue were submitted in March stating that the venue is a “poster-child” for Vancouver’s dilemma between preserving cultural spaces and the surging real-estate markets.

“A building can be preserved when it is considered a heritage site, and there is specific criteria the city basis its decision on,” says McMullin.