Granville Island's potential takeover by Port Metro Vancouver shocks merchants

Small business owners on Granville Island are upset that management of the Vancouver landmark may transfer from Canada Mortgage and Housing to Port Metro Vancouver.

Small business owners, former trustee concerned about losing space that "doesn't exist anywhere else"

Merchants, politicians respond after learning CMHC may transfer control of the popular cultural hub 2:53
Granville Island merchants say they were shocked to hear the popular tourist destination may be undergoing a change of management. (CBC)

Small business owners and a former trustee on Granville Island are upset that management of the Vancouver landmark may transfer from Canada Mortgage and Housing to Port Metro Vancouver.

Local media outlets reported Wednesday that responsibility for the popular tourist destination, full of alternative stores and a busy, local market, could be transferred from the federal housing agency to the port authority.

Karin Edworthy, who has had a shop, Ainsworth Custom Design, on Granville Island for 13 years, says she's worried a new landlord — like Port Metro Vancouver — could destroy what she spent years building.

Merchant Karin Edworthy, who owns Ainsworth Custom Design, has done business on Granville Island for 13 years. (CBC)
Granville Island is a place that doesn't follow rules or cliches and doesn't exist anywhere else in the world- Former Granville Island trustee Jonathan Baker

"I got a knot in my stomach when I heard," said Edworthy.

"The decision of changing who's in charge of managing down here has a direct impact on what my life would be like."

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is opposed to the transfer and has asked that the land be transferred or leased to the City of Vancouver or transferred to another body that is not Port Metro Vancouver. 

Both CMHC and the Port are federal institutions.

But former Granville Island trustee Jonathan Baker, who recently joined the Non-Partisan Association as an advisor, says transferring the land to the City would be the worst possible outcome.

Former Granville Island trustee Jonathan Baker says there's no other place in the world quite like Granville Island. (CBC)

"The City wasn't too keen on it in the first place and it's understandable," Baker told CBC News. "The City administers the rules and it violates all the rules."

"It doesn't exist anywhere else in the world including Europe. It avoids all the places like McDonald's and chains you find everywhere else," said Baker.

"It violates all the traffic rules. It has cars mixed with pedestrians. There are no bicycle trails. There are no sidewalks. It has no zoning to speak of. All uses are allowed in one small space and that's the way it once was in a happier world."

City of Vancouver opposes takeover

After news of the transfer talks became public, Mayor Gregor Robertson and MP Hedy Fry, who represents the riding that includes Granville Island, were quick to issue written statements.

"The City of Vancouver is strongly opposed to Granville Island being controlled by Port Metro Vancouver, and we made our position clear to the Port and the government of Canada in discussions and correspondence over many months," said Robertson's statement.

The mayor called Granville Island "one of Vancouver's most-treasured places and one of the top two tourist destinations anywhere in Canada."

Merchants are worried Granville Island could lose its unique charm and the atmosphere that makes it work under new management. (CBC)

"It is a national landmark in the core of our city and a vibrant hub for tourism, world-renowned arts and culture, local food, and small business," the statement continued.

"Local decision-making and operations are crucial to Granville Island's revitalization and continued success."

Port Metro Vancouver said in a written statement Friday that it is in exploratory discussions with CMHC on the possibility of transferring the administration and management of Granville Island to the Port, but it was too soon to speculate on the outcome of the talks.

CMHC would not confirm the rumours of a potential transfer of control.

Pedestrians mix with vehicles and bicycles on Granville Island, a situation former trustee Jonathan Baker says is an anomaly in an age of rules and regulations. (CBC)

"It is too soon to speculate on any outcome," a CMHC spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

"Over the years, as part of its long-term planning, CMHC has considered different options for the management of the island. At this time, we cannot discuss details around these options."

Fry says the site was redeveloped in 1970 as a local hub for artisans, culture and food in a manner that was in line with CMHC's mandate at the time, which was to support middle-income housing developments, co-operatives and affordable mortgages.

Fry said she will be meeting with local businesses and business leaders in the coming days to find out how the potential end of CMHC's control over Granville Island might affect the continued viability of the site.

With files from the CBC's Tim Weekes and Farrah Merali


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