Historic South Vancouver Punjabi Market transformation begins
New 75-unit rental building on Main Street and 49th Avenue expected to be first of many in the neighbourhood
As tens of thousands of people descend on Vancouver's Punjabi Market for the annual Vaisakhi parade next weekend, this year, there will be a noticeable difference on the iconic corner of Main street and 49th Avenue.
What has long been the home of All India Sweets and Restaurant, is now an empty lot — soon to be a new rental housing complex.
"Right now, it's a flat lot with fencing around it," said Orr Development's public relations consultant Bhupinder Hundal.
But by the fall of 2018, Orr Development expects to complete a 75-unit rental housing complex, with retail space at street level.
"There's a special connection that many generations have with that three blocks," said Hundal.
"It really does sadden them when the Punjabi market isn't doing well. I think this is going to reignite and re-excite them again."
In the last decade, many Punjabi businesses have left Main Street in favour of a growing South Asian community and lower rents in Surrey.
Heritage art installation
As part of the new housing development, the Orr family — which has owned the land for more than 50 years — is commissioning a permanent art display in the building. The art will celebrate the Punjabi community's contribution and history in the neighbourhood.
"There may be plenty of shopping options in Surrey, but there's nothing that has the emotional attachment or the historical attachment that the Punjabi market has," said Hundal.
Vancouver based artist Paneet Singh who is creating the artwork said it's an important move by the developer.
"It doesn't strip the area of its identity and its history. It sets a precedent for any other future developments."
Singh said the artwork will reflect the significant contributions of the Punjabi community in the neighbourhood.
"The Punjabi Market was once a staple of the entire South Asian Community," said Singh.
"It was a vibrant space, a diverse space. It was not only the place for shopping but a place for cultural and community gatherings."
More development on the way
The Orr Development project isn't the only housing complex transforming the Punjabi Market.
The former Frontier Cloth House building on Main Street and 51st Avenue currently has a development application before the City of Vancouver.
Developer Rattan Bagga intends to have 29 units for rent in the next three years.
"At first, it was just a real estate development," Bagga admitted.
"But as I got to know about the area, I developed a love for it."
Bagga said he feels a duty to preserve the cultural heritage of the neighbourhood for the next generation.
As part of the proposed development, he intends to add an ethnic grocery store and Indian restaurant to the complex.
"For the next generations of Indians or the millennials, I perceive that area to be a hub for them where they can hang out," said Bagga.
"I definitely see that area in the next 10 years being the hip area."