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Province to buy ICBC building in North Van and develop 'hundreds' of housing units

City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan says the plans will also include ‘job-generating, mixed-use' developments

The provincial government will buy the iconic ICBC building on North Vancouver’s waterfront and develop the property as transit-oriented housing.

B.C. Premier David Eby made the announcement in North Vancouver Monday.

Eby said the province will work with the City of North Vancouver and the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh nations to develop plans to provide hundreds of new housing units on the property.

Eby said the province plans to build housing that is “attainable” for middle-income earners on the site and have “shovels in the ground” by the time ICBC employees leave for new offices in 2027.

While plans are still being developed, “we’re expecting hundreds of units of housing” said Eby, adding the plan for the property is part of the government’s commitment to use government assets and properties to get housing built in the province.

The housing announcement this week follows news from ICBC last week that after occupying a flagship location on the North Vancouver waterfront for more than 40 years, the Crown corporation will be packing up its headquarters there and moving across Burrard Inlet.

The Crown corporation told employees June 13 it will vacate the 300,000-square-foot, six-story office tower on Esplanade Avenue for newer offices at 2150 Keith Dr. in Vancouver, a space about half the size to the current building, adjacent to the VCC Clark SkyTrain station.

Spokesman Brent Shearer said with most of its 1,500 head office employees working from home part-time, having a huge office didn’t make sense anymore.

Currently, the North Vancouver office is only occupied between 20 to 40 per cent on any given day, he said.

When they do come to the office, 70 per cent of head office workers are commuting from off the North Shore.

Eight years ago, a leaked report prepared by ICBC at the direction of the previous Liberal government indicated the costs of maintenance and upgrades to be around $184 million, including $36 million for seismic upgrades.

Eby said Monday too often what happens to such sites is “they get developed into luxury executive condos.”

But this time the province plans to build a mixed-use development that will include both market and below-market housing, as well as potentially space for childcare, health care and public spaces.

A provincial spokesperson said the government will buy the property for $53.5 million. The property is currently assessed at $92.2 million, with $86.5 million of that in land value.

City of North Vancouver Mayor Linda Buchanan called Monday’s announcement a significant one for the city. The loss of hundreds of public sector workers is a “loss for our economy,” she said, but provides an opportunity to build something new to replace the ICBC office.

Buchanan said whatever gets built in place of the ICBC office needs to be “a job-generating, mixed-use development” – not just residential.

“Our small businesses have really felt the loss of the lunchtime crowd in particular, so that makes a difference for small businesses in their bottom line,” she said. “So job-generating space is absolutely critical for us.”

Buchanan mused that the property could be home to a small-scale conference style hotel, headquarters for another larger company or a series of small companies, as well as providing housing.

Both North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA Bowinn Ma and Transportation Minister Rob Flemming stressed issues of transportation and housing are inter-connected on the North Shore.

“A lot of our transportation issues are directly related to our housing crisis,” said Ma. “People who work here can’t afford to live here. Today’s announcement is incredibly important.”

Flemming stressed that getting rapid transit to the North Shore in the future will also depend on having adequate ridership levels to support that.

“This development is a very positive step,” he said.