Bosa Properties and the owners of the former Army & Navy store on West Hastings Street are teaming up to redevelop the historic site in the heart of the Downtown Eastside into The Cohen Block.
The deal will see Jacqui Cohen, president and CEO of Army & Navy Properties, retain ownership of the location, with Bosa as the development partner. The redevelopment will be known as “The Cohen Block”, paying tribute to the founder Samuel Cohen, also known as “Grandpa Sam”.
“The partner — Jacqui Cohen — and the legacy of the Cohen family provided the initial interest,” says Colin Bosa, CEO of Bosa Properties. “Then it was the scale of the property, which we saw as an opportunity to do something transformational.”
Plans are for a mixed-use, purpose-built rental development, along with retail and office space, as well as community amenities. There will be no strata condominiums in the redevelopment. The Downtown Eastside Area Plan stipulates a range of housing options that must be offered, including a portion of below-market homes rented at shelter rates. The exact number of units and building heights have not yet been determined.
The Cohen Block project will be a landmark development, covering the entire site and frontages on both West Hastings and Cordova. It will pay tribute to the former Army & Navy store which operated for 101 years in the neighbourhood before closing in 2020.
The Cordova Street frontage contains the Dunn-Miller Block, a three-storey late Victorian “Italianate” building constructed in 1888. It was one of the first buildings of its size to be constructed in Gastown after the Great Fire of 1886. During the Klondike years, it was bought by North Vancouver property magnate A.H. Lonsdale and renamed the Lonsdale Block. It was part of the former Army and Navy store from 1948 onwards. It has heritage designation from the City of Vancouver.
Bosa says the Downtown Eastside community will be centred in the redevelopment plans, with interest in offering amenities to support families, women and children in the struggling neighbourhood.
“Inclusiveness and balance are incredibly important to us. How do we bring an energy that’s needed to the area without displacement? When we get the balance right, this project is going to be an anchor for that block and the area around it.”
No formal proposal has yet been submitted to the City of Vancouver, but Bosa and Army & Navy Properties are working with MGA Michael Green Architecture, known for their mass timber designs.
“It’s [mass timber] definitely a possibility and it is a goal for us on the sustainability front, but like everything about the potential redevelopment, we are in the early days,” says Bosa.
In the interim, BC Housing and the City of Vancouver will continue to operate the former department store as a temporary shelter.
The site is surrounded by future social housing and rental development, including Westbank’s Blood Alley rental redevelopment on West Cordova, and plans for a social housing and community health centre across the street on West Hastings.
When asked if we can expect a similar development to the last major mixed-use development in the neighbourhood, Woodwards, Bosa says they are looking at the project “through our own lens.”
“We know we want it to be mixed-use, offering various levels of rental housing, including affordable, while generating employment through retail and office. We also envision cultural and community amenities, but it is still early days. We are in a research phase, and while we know we can’t be all things to all people, we want to understand the needs of the area, the people and the community.”
At this stage, the project team is soliciting feedback from the community, via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org