Proposed downtown arterial puts Vancouver's 'Produce Row' at risk

Malkin Avenue is known as "Produce Row" — it's the starting point for a cluster of wholesalers that distribute fruits and vegetables across Canada.

City says alternate route would cost millions more and cause traffic delays

Vancouver's 'Produce Row' is home to about half a dozen large fruit and vegetable wholesalers. (CBC)

Malkin Avenue near the city's Downtown Eastside is known as "Produce Row" — it's the starting point for a cluster of half a dozen wholesalers that distribute fruits and vegetables across Canada. 

But it's also where the City of Vancouver is proposing to build a new arterial to replace Venables and Prior streets and connect the area to the downtown core when it eventually tears down the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts

Bryan Uvesugi, president of produce wholesaler Fresh Point, says he started his career on Produce Row when someone handed him a broom 46 years ago. (CBC)

"The proposed overpass would start right in front of my building and basically shut off access," said Bryan Uvesugi, president of produce wholesaler Fresh Point Canada

Uvesugi says businesses like his could be in jeopardy if the city decides to use Malkin Avenue because it would restrict access to the more than 4,000 trucks that block traffic as they manoeuvre into position each week. 

He and other major produce businesses on Produce Row are raising concerns about the new arterial road being built, which they say will cut off access to their stores and put the city's food networks at risk. 

'We would be forced to leave'

In a letter to its members, the B.C. Produce Marketing Association says turning Malkin Avenue into a busy arterial will make it difficult for trucks to access the area.

The disruption is of particular concern for Uyesugi, who says he started cleaning floors on Produce Row as a boy.

"I walked up and asked for a job and a fella handed me a broom," he said. "Forty-six years later, here I am."

The city's proposal to remove the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts would include more park space. (City of Vancouver)

Damien Bryan, manager of Discovery Organics, which serves hundreds of retailers across western and northern Canada, agrees the change would be problematic. 

"It would simply hamper our business to such a degree that we would be forced to leave," he said.

The BCPMA says splitting up the businesses along Produce Row would cause all the local retailers that rely on the businesses there to drive to different parts of the city to compare prices and get stock.  

The businesses along the street want the city to consider alternate routes instead. 

False Creek Flats planning process

But the city says building the arterial on National Avenue, which it is also considering, will cost $230 million instead of $130 million and result in increased travel times.

It would also displace the city's fire training facility.

A rendering of the proposed relocation of St. Paul's Hospital to Vancouver's False Creek Flats. (Providence Health Care)

The arterial is being proposed as part of the False Creek Flats planning process —a re-envisioning of the 450-acre industrial area that supplies 8,000 people with jobs. 

The city describes the neighbourhood as the "largest and most diverse produce wholesaler and distribution cluster in Metro Vancouver."

Big changes are already underway for the neighbourhood, which is destined as the future home of Emily Carr University and St. Paul's Hospital. 

City council intends to make a decision on the proposed route by this fall, with construction beginning in two years.

With files from Angela Sterritt