Stay in touch with NIHO!

Canada Line powers deals as investors leap aboard

Peter Mitham, Western Investor, September 2008

The activity is a sign of the promise the line holds for property owners and developers throughout the Lower Mainland.

The potential is obvious. From 1986 to 2007, the value of land within 500 metres of SkyTrain stations increased 628%, according to a survey by Landcor Data Corporation, compared with 352% for other land in host municipalities during the same period. The study also found that multi-family housing starts in the 10 years after SkyTrain’s Expo line opened increased by more than 600% near such key stations as Surrey’s Gateway, New Westminster’s Columbia Street and the Joyce Street station in Vancouver.

Not all stations saw such explosive growth, however, the Landcor study found. For example, the Broadway SkyTrain station saw housing starts fall 22% in the 10 years after it opened and declined a further 40% since. The King George and Surrey Central stations also saw sharp drops in housing activity after the SkyTrain arrived. Burnaby’s Royal Oak station didn’t experience a rise in housing starts for a decade after it opened.

Some of the biggest Canada Line projects are already underway, however, at what are considered key stations, and others will surely follow as the opening of the line in November 2009 and zoning changes put new opportunities on track.

Cambie Street

A walk down Cambie Street from the small retail strip at West 18th to the shore of False Creek is a vivid example of what could be taking place along the line in years to come.

Close to 70 businesses pulled up stakes and moved following the start of construction in October 2005, but now, newcomers are moving in. Residential development Olive with its upscale Capers Community Market at street level, bravely hit the strip in 2006 just as the exodus began, keen to establish itself. More recently, New Orleans-style diner Dadeo has taken over the space vacated by the Tomato Fresh Food Café at West 17th, while the Mount Pleasant Cheese Shop at West 18th debuted in May.

The shop’s owner, Peter Davidson, was originally attracted to the area partially because of good rates on retail space. He was also confident that it would recover as new residential developments in the area took shape and the rapid transit line completed.

“That is a street line that is going to come back; businesses are going to flow back into the area,” he said. “There will be continued development of that area, and that will be good for my business going forward.”

While he had to bear a lot of scepticism at the beginning when he began renovating the space in January, nine months on he believes the long-awaited revival is in gear. A Greek restaurant is moving in next to him, and a children’s toy shop is also setting up. “The upside is certainly there,” he said.

Capers and the cheese shop aren’t the only food stores moving in. Whole Foods Market is set to open adjacent to the new station at Broadway, while Save-on Foods enjoys a prime location a block north between Broadway and the Southeast False Creek neighbourhood that will add more than 14,000 new residents to the area when fully built.


A similar scenario is playing out further south, where Ivanhoe Cambridge plans a makeover of the sprawling Oakridge Centre shopping complex, located adjacent to another Canada Line station.

Ivanhoe Cambridge’s plans will transform the property into a dense urban neighbourhood made home to residential towers and a variety of commercial development. Retail space at the mall could increase to 950,000 square feet from the current 619,000 square feet; office space could more than double to 326,000 square feet from 126,000 square feet; and up to 1.2 million square feet of residential units in two main clusters of towers of up to 250 feet in height are planned.

The scale of the project, which will link with the rapid transit station, would have been impossible without the new transit line.

Vancouver planning director Brent Toderian believes the site offers the greatest opportunity for densification in the city outside the downtown because of its central location and the association with public transit that promises to double the number of people travelling past the site.

Marine Drive

Further south, PCI Group (which is also developing the Cross Roads development where Whole Foods will located on Broadway) picked up the former ICBC claims centre adjacent to the Marine Drive station in December 2007 with plans for an ambitious mixed-use development.

Vancouver architecture firm Busby Perkins + Will is drafting plans for up to 850,000 square feet of multi-level retail space, an office tower and 500 homes (including 180 rental units). PCI bills Marine Gateway as the first project to target the goals of the city’s Eco-Density charter.


The developments in Vancouver are dwarfed, however, by Richmond’s plans for its downtown. Backed by an amendment to its official community plan and bolstered by the development of the landmark Olympic speed-skating oval that will anchor a new riverfront neighbourhood, Richmond plans to transform its downtown core into a model transit-oriented community.

The new transit line runs down No. 3 Road, the city’s main thoroughfare that has long been characterized by sprawling parking lots. Hardly condusive to a pedestrian – friendly atmosphere during the day, the effect at night could be dehumanizing. Terry Crowe, Manager of policy and planning for Richmond, believes the new urban plan, in tandem with the new transit line, will help achieve the changes Richmond needs to create a walkable downtown that incorporates a mix of land uses.

Residential development is barred from the areas around the Bridgeport and Aberdeen stations which sit in the midst of a proposed industrial land reserve of 223 acres, but it is integral to the vision of a transit-oriented corridor along No. 3 road.

While the new transit line provides a focus for redevelopment of the city’s core with residential and commercial uses, it also opens the door to the city’s reorientation to the river as developments take shape around the speed-skating oval being built for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

ASPAC Developments Ltd. is already proceeding with plans for the 18.6 acres it bought adjacent to the venue last year.

Great Canadian Gaming Corp.’s plans to incorporate a transit link within the expansion of its River Rock Casino Resort expansion, and the potential redevelopment of Lansdowne Mall compound Richmond’s massive makeover. The Fairchild Group has also jumped into the game, acquiring land fronting No. 3 Road at Aberdeen station.

Fairchild said it plans to expand its mall development on the site and incorporate a connection to the transit line.

“There’s been a bit of development but certainly, I think, more is coming,” said Amarjeet Rattan, business liason manager for Richmond. “There’s more awareness of the opportunities that will be available for redevelopment.”