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Gentrification and local business: Seán Heather and David Duprey on the future of the Eastern Core

Eastern Core business owners David Duprey & Seán Heather discuss Vancouver's development boom.

Local business: part of the ecosystem of a rapidly-changing city.

We are agents of gentrification

I take a photo of the Empress Hotel sign on East Hastings, and confront the uncomfortable notion that I just might be a hipster. My boot-cut jeans suggest otherwise, but one thing is clear: I'm part of the gentrification issue in Vancouver. So are you, unless you can entirely avoid interacting with the service and retail economies. In the urban-development game, we're all players; but some are bigger players than others.

Local business owners -- championed by some and vilified by others -- are key agents in gentrification, yet also potential victims of rapid real-estate development. However big you are, you're that small.

When we think about gentrification, the immediate image is that of the cool new business that opened down the street, in and among those old neon signs. I'm not here for the signs, though: I'm here for the newer businesses that share their East Van postal codes. While we're here, though, let's throw in some cross-processing and get it out of our systems:

The Empress Hotel, Vancouver

The Empress is just across the street from the Rickshaw Theatre, one of seven East Van businesses owned by David Duprey, with whom I spoke about gentrification, development, and culture in Vancouver's Eastern Core.

A shock to the system

"It's like we’re experiencing the death of a loved one, and we don’t know how to handle it."

David Duprey owns three businesses in the DTES and three on Main Street. Add to that the soon-to-open Emerald Supper Club, and you have the picture of a guy who's winning. If he seems unhappy during our phone conversation, it's because he's describing what he sees as the future of Vancouver, his home town. "I know what Main is about to look like, and I don’t think people realize [what's about to happen]."

Duprey was born in Vancouver. He was abroad for something like a decade and a half, and so the change in Vancouver's face and soul hit him like a ton of bricks upon his return in the Naughties: "Nothing looks even slightly the same. It’s just crushing."

I had phoned David to talk to him about Strathcona's fork in the road, but he has his eye on a wider swath of East Van.

"Main Street is going through the terror right now of spot rezoning. Mount Pleasant developed a local area plan, what all the residents wanted to see for the next ten years. As soon as that plan was done, that's when the RIZE development was coming in." The RIZE development at Kingsway and Broadway includes a 19-floor tower. The original RIZE plan called for 15 STIR (short-term incentive for rental) units--themselves controversial-- and a community space. Both have vanished, replaced by the promise of a Cash Amenity Contribution for neighborhood public art and an affordable housing fund; which some in City Hall argue will be difficult to track.

The Mount Pleasant Implementation Committee (MPIC) ended up suggesting that RIZE was too big for the area (pdf), but, as Duprey says, "The City said, 'No, we're doing it anyway.'"

David mentions this because it's happening along Main Street. Expect ten-story buildings along both sides of Main, he tells me, and then watch the local-business turnover. New buildings cost a fortune, and thus the rental spaces (commercial and residential) are in turn more expensive than they were before.

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