A Community Rises in Vancouver’s Industrial East End

Great Northern Way Campus | BCBusiness
A rendering of what the developed Finning lands will look like, with the new Emily Carr University at its heart.

With the addition of art space, a new Emily Carr University and now residential development, the Great Northern Way property once home to Finning International—dubbed “Southeast False Creek Flats”—is finally coming to life

After more than a decade of relative inactivity, the former Finning International property on Great Northern Way is about to undergo transformative change that promises to turn it into Vancouver’s next hot neighbourhood.
The 18-acre parcel of land, just south of the BNSF railway tracks east of Main Street, was donated by the industrial giant to a consortium of four educational institutions (UBC, SFU, BCIT and Emily Carr University) in 2001. What became known as the Great Northern Way Trust was charged with managing the property for the schools, and one of its first moves was to build a Centre for Digital Media to house a new master of digital media program, which the partners had launched in 2007.
The Centre was the catalyst for what’s happened since, according to Matthew Carter, president of the GNW Trust, who was hired in 2009 with a mandate to put together a business plan to develop the property. Carter says the trust wants to “develop in a manner that’s consistent with the theme established by the Centre,” with work/live/retail spaces for people in the digital media, technology and arts sectors.
In addition to the Centre, Carter and his team have, in the past couple of years, restored some of the old Finning buildings and converted them to other uses, including a building for digital media startups and an art space for two of the city’s best-known galleries: the Equinox Gallery and the Monte Clark Gallery. That move alone has inspired a slew of other South Granville galleries into moving to the area, along East 1st Avenue, turning what’s been dubbed “Southeast False Creek Flats” into the city’s new art district.
Last year, in a long-anticipated move, the provincial government also announced that it would spend $113 million to relocate Emily Carr University to the Great Northern Way property in 2016, bringing an influx of 1,800 students and a couple hundred faculty and staff to the area. “We were always hoping it would happen, but there was always an element of, ‘It’s a good idea but we’re not sure it’s fully organized and fully ready,’” says Carter. “It’s an amazing anchor to our vision for this whole place.”
Now, in the final piece of the puzzle, the Trust has sold four of the 18 acres (on the far western side of their property) to developer Onni Group to add residential units to the mix. The first 209 live-work units will be ready for the second quarter of 2016, with development of another site across the road coming shortly thereafter.
“We have a really interesting project that Onni is delivering that I think will bring some vitality to the area,” says Carter. “The idea of getting a vibrant, animated project that brings some live-work, artist studios, retail, maybe student rental housing, is a really exciting way for us to bridge the campus to the city.”
Add in some of GNW’s other new neighbours—Mission Hill Winery owner Anthony Von Mandl has plans to develop a parcel just east of the campus, while Mountain Equipment Co-op is relocating its headquarters a couple doors down—and it’s clear that Southeast False Creek Flats is on the rise.