British Columbia

Whither now Main Street? Vancouver's changing Mount Pleasant

Workers and residents in the Main Street area are coming to terms with incoming development and a different, more affluent crowd.

Assessed property values and costs soar as development inches in on the neighbourhood

Sarah Savoy, the owner of Much and Little near Main Street and Broadway says many of the commercial spaces surrounding her own retail operation have sat empty for years. She is calling on the city to implement an "empty storefront tax." (Google)

A Vancouver city council vote on rezoning a swath of Mount Pleasant in an effort to stimulate the city's tech industry has been put off until next Tuesday. 

But regardless of the outcome, the neighbourhood along the Main Street corridor is expected to see big changes in the coming years.

The rezoning would allow several blocks along Quebec Street, which runs parallel to Main Street, to have larger buildings with more space for more workers. 

More people in the neighbourhood would naturally mean more customers at local shops, but there's more at play in the area.

Property values jump

Assessed property values throughout Vancouver rose sharply this year, and the Main Street corridor through Mount Pleasant is part of that trend.

The Foundation at Main and East 7th Avenue is shutting its doors — a victim of rising rents. Its assessed property value rose 35 per cent from 2015 to $4.25 million this year.

Foundation Restaurant co-owner Mark Thomson says rising rents have forced him to close his Main Street eatery. (Google Street View)

Across the street, a parking lot's assessed value rose 63 per cent from $13.34 million to $21.75 million in the last year.

"Basically, the property value from 2nd to 7th [Avenue] ... in the last year alone, the assessed land value has gone up by over 100 per cent," said Michael Wiebe, co-president of the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association and the owner of 8 ½ Restaurant on 8th Avenue.

Maria Norbjerg, who works at Lucy's Diner a couple blocks down Main Street said the rent is reasonably stable, but property taxes are going up.

New condos going up

Norbjerg said three or four large nearby condominium projects are expected to add an influx of new residents, who may be hungry for Lucy's 24-hour fare. 

"We're hoping to see a little bit of a boom in that regard," said Norbjerg, adding that the diner's 'food for the working class' prices may feel the pressure in the evolving community.

Dexter Holmes, general manager at Our Town Cafe, said the rising rents aren't unique to Mount Pleasant, but the density of new development is certainly changing the character of the neighbourhood.

"Seeing the last year and a half, there's definitely a change," said Holmes, "But I can't tell if it's a good or bad thing right now."

"I think a lot of good people still come here, but there's definitely a new influx of people and I hear a lot of stories and whispers of kind of the old heart of the neighbourhood leaving slowly," he said.


At Our Community Bikes, a local non-profit bike shop, coordinator Jesse Cooper simply calls the trend gentrification.

He said the shop caters to low-income cyclists and he fears they'll be turned away from the neighbourhood if the cost of a coffee or sandwich keeps climbing.

"We will see … I'm not too sure what to expect from people moving into these condos," said Cooper.

'A vital, living street'

Gordon Price, a fellow with the Centre for Dialogue at Simon Fraser University cautions against trying to slow the type of change along Main Street that concerns people like Cooper.

"To my mind, that's the sign of a vital, living street. It's a good thing in the end," said Price.

A mural by local artists Drew Young and Jay Senetchko is one of many public artworks added to Mount Pleasant as part of the 2016 Vancouver Mural Festival. (Rafferty Baker / CBC)

"Unless you have kind of a constant, incremental change, a neighbourhood can deteriorate and then change comes very, very suddenly."

But according to Price, the change happening in the neighbourhood now is nothing compared to what will happen in the next couple of decades.

"We've hardly begun to see some of the really consequential changes that we can predict confidently," he said.

"Once the Millennium Line is extended down Broadway and Main Street becomes the new SkyTrain station, once the hospital goes in down on the lands just to the north of Pacific Central Station, those are going to be huge changes."

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker