Big plans proposed for Italian Cultural Centre

An ambitious proposal could see the Italian Cultural Centre transformed into an extensive complex featuring everything from recreational amenities, a theatre and restaurants to piazzas, a library, a daycare and rental housing.

The cultural centre, located at 3075 Slocan St., is going into its 40th year — the buildings are aging, there is a large under-utilized parking lot and a desire to improve its long-term financial sustainability.

In the 1970s, the vision for the 4.3-acre property was to create an Italian village that was a home away from home, according to Mauro Vescera, the centre’s executive director.

Thirteen Italian associations came together to build it with sweat equity and help from the city and province.

“It’s the story of the second generation taking what the first generation created and hoping to move it forward,” he said.

The cultural centre is working with Bosa Properties and Henriquez Partners Architects on the redevelopment project, which still needs members’ approval before a rezoning application is submitted to the city.

“It’ll be up to our membership as to whether they’d like to proceed and, of course, the initial vision will evolve and change as we engage the city and the neighbourhood,” Vescera said.

Plans have been underway for several years and the preliminary design concept envisions the existing Floor Space Ratio [FSR] of .55 going up to 2.7 FSR.

Three new buildings would be connected through piazzas and atriums and the parking lot would go underground, but the overall goal is to maintain the Italian feel.

“Essentially, there will be a piazza at the front of the centre and then it will circle a building in the middle,” Vescera said. “And then there will be a little piazza that connects to the community garden we have at Beaconsfield Park. It’s all about building into the contour of the land and doubling the size of the centre so we can do more programming and be more sustainable and promote our culture.”

Vescera stressed the proposal is still at the preliminary stage. Members will vote sometime in the spring on whether to move forward with the rezoning application.

But the changes proposed would be dramatic, and the plans are not without critics and questions.

“It’s a significant change and it’s complicated. A lot of people who worked on this [original] building are older members — that first generation. [They’re] really emotionally tied to the building. So it’s not an easy transition. We’ve done over a year of consultation. Ultimately, in this democratic society, it’ll be up to them [members]. We’re hopeful. It makes sense long-term but when you’re part of something, change is challenging,” Vescera said.

He added, with a laugh: “We’re Italian, so this sort of process includes a little bit of arguing. That’s positive, it’s creative and, like any other change, there’s always going to be people who may not want it or resist it. We’re hoping to work with everyone to bring it forward. To be honest, there’s some people who are very tied to [the building] and others who are open. It’s nothing unusual. It’s to be expected and we understand that.”

An open house, the second of two, is set for Feb. 18. It’s geared toward members of the centre but others are welcome. For details, go to italianculturalcentre.ca.

This article, by Naoibh O’Connor, was originally published on the Vancouver Courier website on February 14, 2017.


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