If you’ve been to North Vancouver’s Lonsdale waterfront lately, you’ll have noticed the brisk pace of construction. Highrise condominiums, a hotel and a public pier are all part of the gentrification of a derelict industrial area that was once home to the Burrard Shipyards.
Even as development continues, however, the crown jewel of the North Shore waterfront project — the National Maritime Centre of the Pacific and Arctic — is in danger of being washed away.
The venue is projected to play host to a major museum, exhibitions, and sea festivals. In short, it would celebrate the West Coast’s rich maritime history and culture.
The project’s backers believe it would be a big tourist draw and would deliver economic spinoffs to the Metro region.
They’re probably right.
During the summer, the SeaBus service is usually packed with day-trippers who want to soak in the harbour atmosphere. Given the proximity of the proposed maritime centre to Lonsdale Quay, it would be an ideal destination for these sightseers.
The problem is, the project still needs long-awaited government funding to move ahead. North Vancouver Mayor Darrell Mussatto told me recently that if the provincial and federal governments can’t come through with financing, this waterfront development will be in peril.
Which would be a shame, given the perfect timing.
A neighbouring, under-construction hotel will be finished before the new year. And two renovated heritage buildings that are part of the waterfront site will be ready this fall. In addition, the area will soon enjoy improved transit by way of a third SeaBus crossing.
The venue also has support from the Vancouver Maritime Museum and the City of Vancouver, which means it can showcase some of this region’s most important nautical artifacts.
“North Vancouver has done everything it can,” says Mussatto. “It’s now in the province’s lap and the premier has been very supportive in the past.”
Whether that support is still intact is the big question, given current government budget challenges. But a cash crunch shouldn’t be a deal breaker for this much-anticipated tourist destination.
“It’s a golden opportunity,” Mussatto says. “This will never come again — this kind of building on the waterfront, with this kind of operational support.”
But, he says, the project is at a critical juncture.
“If it’s not seized now, the concept of the National Maritime Centre is over.”