A giant, three-storey, mesh LED screen on the side of a Burnaby Metrotown condo tower that hasn't lit up since 2021 has become the subject of a legal battle.
The 4,300-square-foot screen wraps around the exterior of the second, third and fourth floors of Gold House, a mixed-use highrise development on the corner of Beresford Street and McKay Avenue, right across the street from the SkyTrain tracks near Metrotown station.
Celebrated as the largest non-commercial urban art LED display in North America when the tower was complete in 2020, the screen was envisioned as a public art canvas and promised to be a dramatic addition to the city's vaunted Beresford Art Walk.
After lighting up Metrotown for about a month, however, the screen went blank.
A petition filed by the Gold House strata in B.C. Supreme Court this week sheds light on why.
In 2021, the owners of two fourth-storey units "unilaterally removed" transformers from their lots needed to make the screen operable, according to allegations in the petition.
"Due to the removal of the transformers, the digital screen is currently inoperable," states the petition.
The strata says the building's developer, Rize Alliance Properties, and the City of Burnaby had a covenant agreeing Rize would install the giant screen as a public art installation in exchange for rezoning approvals.
When the building was finished, they entered a second covenant to ensure owners wouldn't do anything that would "interfere with the functioning of the digital screen," according to the petition.
Because of that covenant, the strata's bylaws prohibit any alteration to strata lots that would "adversely interfere with the digital screen."
In February 2023, the strata says it was contacted by the city's lawyers demanding the strata "take immediate action to make the digital screen operable once more."
Between April and June 2023, Rize retained a contractor who inspected all the units on the fourth floor and found the transformers had been removed in only two units: 403 and 405, owned by Hope Health Holdings Ltd. and a numbered company (1341094 Ltd.) respectively.
Neither of the owners has been co-operative, according to the petition.
Both have taken the position the covenant is illegal and the transformers were illegally installed, the petition says, and both have now refused further access to their units.
City threatening legal action, strata says
The city is threatening legal action, according to the petition, but the strata says it can't carry out its obligations under the bylaws and covenant because of the owners.
The strata has applied to the court for injunctions compelling the owners to allow inspections and work to be done to fix the screen.
It is also asking for declarations that the owners breached the strata’s bylaws by removing the transformers and not allowing the inspections.
The petition also asks the court to find the owners liable for "all reasonable costs involved in repairing the digital screen caused by their tampering and removal of the transformers."
While B.C. strata disputes are normally dealt with by the province's Civil Resolution Tribunal, the strata says the matter should be handled by the Supreme Court.
"One of the key issues, namely whether public amenities installed in a strata building as per (the covenant) would qualify as 'common property,' has not been adjudicated in the past and would benefit from being adjudicated by the court to establish a precedent."
The giant LED screen had a budget of $1 million and was supposed to have been part of the city's Beresford Art Walk program.
The plan was for the Burnaby Art Gallery to curate digital art to be displayed on the screen, according to a 2020 article in AV Magazine.
"We see the potential for activated public spaces and how they become a centre for community interaction," Rize director of design and communications Julia Schenck told the magazine. "Our investment in meaningful public art installations is one of the ways we can elevate everyday living within our developments."
‘Spectacular’ – when it’s working
Metrotown resident Gregory Bourgeois told the NOW in April 2021 he had initially monitored the Beresford Art Walk project with "a great deal of optimism" but that optimism gradually turned to disappointment.
He referenced the giant LED screen as an example.
He said it was "spectacular" when it was lit up but only shone for about a month before going dark.
"My impression has been that the developers are providing the art in return for density bonuses," Bourgeois said in a letter to the editor. "If so, they are not truly fulfilling their commitments."
Bourgeois wrote another letter to the NOW a year later saying the sign was still dark.
The NOW has reached out to the Burnaby Art Gallery for information about the giant public art installation but has not received a reply.
The allegations in the petition have not been proven in court. No responses have yet been filed.