Marine Gateway up close: First Impressions

Text and images by Mike Klassen

Marine Gateway is the very model of the highly-touted TOD (transit-oriented development) and one which the City of Vancouver and development community have a stake in its success.

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In preparation for a recent Heritage Vancouver talk about shaping our neighbourhoods, I decided to make a quick morning stop at Marine Gateway. To be fair, the place was extremely quiet as some businesses such as the Cineplex had not opened yet.

I arrived via the underground parking lot elevator which exits on to Marine Drive. A quick left turn out of the elevator took me past a large air duct toward the central square shopping area. Right there I was walloped by the smell of rotting garbage being blown up from the basement. I surmised that perhaps a garbage bin had been parked too close to the intake in the garage – something I hope that is easily rectifiable as it makes for an unpleasant sensory impression.

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The “square” as I will call it features a long plaza that opens north to the busy Marine Drive intersection and looks toward newer towers — many of which are rental.

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The surface of the square features many nice touches, such as cast metal grates with words stencilled into them. The covered walkway on the east side of the square is made of wooden planks, which remind me a bit of walking in Steveston’s old cannery district with its restaurants and ice cream joints. It’s a nice touch and it will be interesting to see how this surface is maintained over the long term.

The use of transparent glass awnings provide both weather protection for much of the space, but also allow a clear view up toward the surrounding buildings. People in offices to the east and residences to the west both would have a clear view of the square below too, making the area more inviting and safe.

There are many unoccupied retail spaces in the development, but one presumes that it will be a matter of time before they are filled. Just like with Olympic Village, it took a few brave business proprietors to be the first ones in, with the rest of the spaces eventually being leased.

IMG_8108There are a few “anchor tenants” already in place. The T&T Supermarket is geared toward Vancouver’s Chinese community (a prominent part of south Vancouver’s population). The Cineplex theatre will make MG a destination for movie-goers who love the big-screen surround-sound experience. There’s a English pub-style eatery (with an intriguing outdoor patio that hangs over the bus loop). There are two banks, a dentist’s office, a government liquor store, and a Winner’s clothing store. The latter is very much geared to low-to-middle income shoppers, many of whom live in nearby homes and apartments.

IMG_8104From a distance Marine Gateway has a cool aquamarine hue from the glass and metal finish of the building exteriors. Up close in the square there is an attempt to make it seem more warm, with some wood finishes and orange-coloured glass along the west balcony.

The plaza features raised garden beds with water percolating in them. Each bed has a cast metal plaque with the name of a tributary of the Fraser River, and a sort of homage to BC’s salmon run is embedded beside each. Not sure how much shoppers will engage on these details, but they are distinctive at least.

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Marine Gateway certainly garnered its share of controversy for the urban design, the location on the edge of our industrial land base, and its displacement of existing low rental housing. It is definitely a “work in progress” but one that makes a respectable first impression. Though I did not try that hard I was surprised that I did not intuitively know how to get to the Canada Line station from the square. Perhaps I just missed the signage.

In the long run I think the city and the developers must give some consideration to how to bridge the intersection at Marine and Cambie, which is always massively busy and not at all pedestrian or bike friendly. It will make the difference in the success of the development as a whole.

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