Olympic Village sheds 'ghost town' label

Residents welcome London Drugs pharmacy to revitalized village square

Artist Myfanwy MacLeod's sculptures The Birds adorn the Village square, part of the former Olympic Village that local residents say is becoming vibrant.

Artist Myfanwy MacLeod's sculptures The Birds adorn the Village square, part of the former Olympic Village that local residents say is becoming vibrant.

Photograph by: Stuart Davis, PNG , Vancouver Sun

Ghost town, dead, dull - these are all words that are no longer used to describe the once struggling condominium community of the Village on False Creek.

More than two years after the 2010 Winter Games flame was extinguished in Vancouver, and the residential development became dogged with controversy and miserable condo sales, the Olympic Village has come alive.

A community largely made up of young families, empty nesters and city professionals has emerged, evident on Saturday as hundreds of residents filled the village square for an event to mark the grand opening of London Drugs, the latest in a string of new retail amenities aimed at revitalizing the Village.

Earlier this summer, the upscale supermarket Urban Fare and the Tap and Barrel, a 12,000 square-foot restaurant, moved into the complex, following on the success of trendy cafes and shops like Terra Breads and Legacy Liquor.

Five days ago, Brenda Racanelli bought a ground-level 950-square-foot two-bedroom condo facing the waterfront on Athletes Way for $670,000, which she noted was much lower than the initial asking price in the $800,000 range.

In February 2011, the Village was relaunched by Rennie Marketing with new show homes, a name change and prices that averaged 30 per cent lower than those in place in 2010.

Racanelli's parents also bought a condo in the Village a year ago and she says it's nice for her three-year-old son to be closer to his grandparents.

She said she loved the fact her son will meet other children in an area she believes is very safe.

"I've been noticing more kids in the area There's a real neighbourhood feel," she said.

"You start seeing the same people all the time and you're saying 'hello' more than you would in some other neighbourhoods."

Rejoice Kryza, who rents a unit in the Village and was cuddling her nine-month-old baby girl, said it was the number of families and the beauty of the waterfront that attracted her to the complex.

"There's the community centre, and to see so many businesses now come out, well that's what we need," she said. In the last year she has lived there, the mother of three said she's seen the community change a lot.

"There wasn't much going on when we first moved here, but now every weekend there's activities and so many people come here, rain or shine - and, you know, with these big birds it's so beautiful - like a postcard."

Condo marketer Bob Rennie said more homeowners - rather than investors - have been buying the units in the last few months, which he said adds to the sense of community.

""We have a lot of first-time buyers and empty nesters," he said. "It's people who don't want to live downtown and like that it's not a car-dependent community ... It takes 18 minutes to walk to Granville Island."

Of the 737 units in the Village, only 186 are left, said Rennie, with 26 units ranging from $395,000 to $3 million sold since July. He speculated the rest of the units will be sold by the end of next year.

On Saturday, kids with Spider-Man balloons and face-paint raced around the square, sugar high on candy-floss and Popsicles, while other people swayed to booming dance music in the Village square, an area becoming synonymous with two massive art sculptures called The Birds, created by artist Myfanwy MacLeod.

Once a shipyard and industrial wasteland, the Village is now a hub for outdoor enthusiasts of the cycling, strolling, and rolling variety, as well as those who would prefer to sit on a sunny patio with an ice-cold beer.

Raucous laughter could be heard from an oversized patio at the new and popular Tap and Barrel, which was packed with sunseekers and friends cheering with sudsy beers and colourful summery cocktails.

Steve Szilvassy, who has lived in the area for 11 years with his wife Marta, said they never took walks along the seawall like they do now.

"It was so dead here. You had to drive somewhere else to get groceries," he said. Wearing twisted party balloons on their heads, the elderly couple was whooping it up Saturday in the square with their three-year-old granddaughter Graye.

Like many of the local residents, Laura MacCormack, a mortgage broker who has lived in the area at 2nd and Yukon for six years, described the Olympic Village as a "ghost town" post-Games.

"I felt like at any moment a tumble-weed would roll by," she said.

"The energy in the village was strange then. And now, two years later, it has started to come to life with the seawall being complete, the new community centre, Urban Fare, Legacy Liquor store, Terra Breads ... there is a new sense of community."

London Drugs and Urban Fare, which originally signed up as anchor tenants at the Village, renegotiated the terms of their leases after the original site developer Millennium went into receivership last November. The companies announced last summer they had reached agreement on leases after the residential occupancy rate reached 65 per cent at the site.

"If people have never been down here, I think their perceptions are going to be blown out of the water about what they thought or understood in the media," said Clint Mahlman, senior vice-president of London Drugs.

The Village on False Creek condominium complex opened in 2009, and during the Olympics housed athletes from around the world. But controversy and financial problems soon dogged the $1-billion development. Vancouver tax-payers ended up on the hook for $178 million for the city-owned land purchased by the developer, Millennium, which later went into receivers


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