When it was incorporated as a municipality in 1879, Richmond, B.C. started out mainly in agricultural and fishing due to its fertile soil and proximity to the mighty Fraser River. Indeed, the grid-like network of roads and places like Steveston Village still remind people today of its history. But with the municipal government issuing nearly $700 million dollars in building permits in 2013 — resulting in a burgeoning of both residential and commercial developments — the former sleepy farm community is well on its way to becoming a true destination city.
There is no better evidence of Richmond’s quick metropolitan rise than the impending Central at Garden City, a 375,000 square-foot complex in the town core that will be built by Canadian-based shopping centre developer SmartCentres. Bordered by Alexandra Road to the north and Alderbridge way to the south, a Walmart Supercentre will serve as the anchor of the long-standing project. “We started buying land here 10 year ago,” says Mike Gilman, SmartCentres senior land developer. “We’ve been working with the city on the rezoning process for that length of time. We’ve just gone through various committee councils. Over the last six months to a year really it’s come to a head.”
Slated for a summer 2016 opening, the $150,000 million endeavour is set to create just shy of 1,000 jobs and generate over $2 million in annual property taxes meaning there will be a significant economic impact on the local level, as well. Central is also being designed as a mixed-use facility to provide more than just retail convenience, such as wide-open areas where people can congregate.
“There will be lots of gathering spaces on-site, places you can shop and eat while the kids run around,” he says. “We’re creating a green space overtop over top of some of our parking, which is almost an acre in size and will act as a public park.”
Sustainability has been a key part of discussion regarding the project, and the site will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards. New bus stops and bike lanes are part of several planned street upgrades, and there will be plenty of spots for cyclists to lock up their bikes. Electric vehicle owners won’t be left out either with charging stations to be installed at different parts of the complex. Gilman says Central at Garden has largely been made possible by the leaps and bounds Richmond has made in recent years. “As any place, any city grows, it reaches a stage in its development where it attracts the next level of retail, the next level of business, and Richmond has gotten to that level now. It is on the radar for a broader range of businesses,” says Gilman. “The demographic support is much better now than 10 years ago when we thought of it.” That same support is what has allowed construction for the Lower Mainland’s first luxury designer outlet centre to get underway near the Templeton Canada Line SkyTrain station at the Vancouver International Airport. Dubbed the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Vancouver Airport, the same group is responsible for similar establishments all over Europe, and ones closer to home like the popular Seattle Premium Outlets just a couple of hours drive away in nearby Tulalip.“This will be modelled after ones in Europe, an open-air concept village,” says Tony Gugliotta, senior vice president of business development at the Vancouver Airport Authority, who adds the architecture will be modelled after iconic buildings in Vancouver (think heritage brick facades found in Gastown).
Echoing Gilman, Gugliotta says the timing for an outlet in Richmond was right. “Because there isn’t one in Vancouver at this point, we felt that this was a good opportunity to build something that is unique to the region,” he says. “It will draw people from all over the Lower Mainland to the airport and the City of Richmond. And it will be very attractive to tourists and passengers flying through Vancouver with a few hours to kill.” There are other similarities between Central and McArthurGlen, which is expected to open its doors next spring. Many non-shopping amenities are being built to add to the experience, like live music and entertainment, restaurants and cafes, a children’s play area, parkland, and bike paths to encourage people to utilize alternate modes of transportation.
The outlet is the first commercial development approved at YVR, but if all goes well, more may be on their way, since the associated revenue helps offset costs and make the airport more efficient and cheaper to operate, says Gugliotta. Aside from the 30-acres dedicated to McArthurGlen, there are other available plots of land, including one on Russ Baker Way where the designer mall was originally going to be located before a decision was made to put it closer to the SkyTrain. The airport has been popular for non-commercial businesses, too — Canada Post relocated their processing functions to a brand new 700,000 square-foot facility on Ferguson Road earlier this year.
Whether it’s the convenience of big box retailers or the lure of luxury brands, there are going to be a lot more reasons for people to visit, and quite possibly stay, in Richmond. And if the current boom of expansion is any indication, the island city’s urban evolution is only just beginning.