Vancouver Eastside Neighbourhood Shifts from Industrial to Mixed Commercial
A new community radio station is set to go to air at a warehouse-turned-office and studio space in Vancouver’s Railtown in a move that the stakeholders say will give a cultural and economic boost to the gritty but emerging Downtown Eastside neighbourhood.
Roundhouse Radio, expected to launch this summer, will be a commercial FM community talk and music station. The station’s management, which claims it will bring 30 to 40 jobs to Railtown, leased a renovated space at 704 Alexander St. for their street-level studio digs.
Japanese property firm KM Pacific Investments purchased the building, formerly a warehouse, two years ago and has leased more than 40 per cent of the overhauled space to Roundhouse, which will take over the entire 6,000-square-foot ground floor.
“We’re right among a mixed community that’s a cross-section of everything going on in Vancouver, which I think is relevant for a station that’s all about the streets, all about the city,” Roundhouse CEO Don Shafer said in an interview.
The station’s broadcast range will cover the city of Vancouver. Shafer said the culture and politics of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods would provide the basis for their content. “We’re counting on the community to drive a lot of the agenda on the radio station.”
They looked at about 40 buildings before choosing Railtown, Shafer said. “We kept coming back to [this one] because it was on the street, and I think it’s really important for a community station to have a street presence and not be isolated on the 35th floor of some tower.”
He said the station’s music would be about half Canadian content with a variety of genres including rock, folk, pop, world, jazz and others.
“We’re hoping that a lot of that Canadian content will come from the streets and from indie bands and new artists who are trying to get their start in Vancouver, B.C. and Canada,” he said.
Vancouver-Mount Pleasant MLA Jenny Kwan said she welcomes creative and unique businesses like Roundhouse to the neighbourhood, but she cautioned that developers of Railtown’s industrial space need to respect that problems continue to exist in the area, such as poverty and a lack of affordable housing.
“There are opportunities on the social side of things for economic development in terms of local hires and those components also will strengthen the local community,” said Kwan, who recently won the NDP’s federal nomination for Vancouver-East. “I know that some businesses are doing that and so and I think that is really important to take into consideration.”
Kwan said there is no question that gentrification is taking place in the area. “There’s a lot of tension in the neighbourhood.”
However, there’s a buzz in Railtown that is drawing in many new restaurants, boutiques and creative small businesses, she said. “There’s a long history of buildings in the inner East Side light industrial zones that have been very successful, while offering spaces that are flexible for artists, designers, filmmakers and small fabricators,” she said, mentioning, The Vinegar Factory, The Glass Onion and Ironworks Studios, among others.
“Hopefully the private sector will be able to find ways to work with the community,” she said, adding that she hopes that low-income serving businesses remain while entrepreneurs and social enterprises can continue to access space