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Development boom transforming Metrotown landscape

Development boom transforming Metrotown landscape
Paul Hillsdon

Metrotown, one of the region’s original town centres, is in the midst of a transformational development boom. With seven new towers currently under construction, most of which are around 40 stories tall, the unprecedented mass of projects underway promises to finally fulfill the area’s full potential.

Metrotown has had a unique character amongst the regional town centres, with the mall as a domineering anchor of activity, surrounded by old rental apartments south of the SkyTrain and a band of condos north of Kingsway. In many regards, the area remained deeply suburban in function, resulting in less street activity than would be expected for the neighbourhood’s high transit usage and population.

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This new wave of projects is challenging Metrotown to become a truly urban centre. They could be classified as infill developments, replacing underutilized plots of land with ultra-dense towers. All seven of the projects underway are located closer to both the mall and SkyTrain than previous waves of development. In addition, they embrace the street, building right to the edge with commercial units or walk-up condos, a significant evolution from the towers-in-a-park style of projects built before the millennium.

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Polygon has two projects in Metrotown. Chancellor, a 37-storey condo project of two-bedroom residences, is nearly complete, built at the corner of Nelson and Bennett.

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Near Dow and Beresford is Moda, a 33 storey-tower with one and two bedroom condos.

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Further west is Metrotower III, a new sister tower joining the Metrotower office twins, built in the early 90’s. The 25-storey LEED Gold office building was temporarily put on hold during the recession, but is nearly topped out today.

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Two residential condos are rising right next to SkyTrain. Metroplace, from Intracorp, will tower over the neighbourhood at 46-storeys, while a commercial podium promises to liven the streetscape at Beresford and Telford.

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Two blocks away, Intracorp is building Silver, a similar, if less impressive, 38-storey condo tower.

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Northwest of the mall, and adjacent to the Crystal Mall, is Sovereign from Bosa. Anchoring the northeast corner of Willingdon and Kingsway, this long-awaited project will urbanize another corner of this gateway intersection. The 45-storey mixed-use project will feature 202 residential condos on top of 169 hotel rooms and a three-story retail podium.

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Perhaps the most significant project underway is Anthem & Beedie’s joint re-development of Station Square. What used to be a neglected semi-urban mall is being replaced with a mixed-use, urban area with five residential towers ranging in heights from 35 to 57-storeys! New streets will be lined by the commercial podiums of these LEED Silver towers. The former Save-On-Foods building has already been torn down, while the first tower – 35 storeys – will soon be built on the former location of Red Robin and Boston Pizza.

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There is a flurry of additionally planned projects on their way. Boffo’s Modello is a 37-storey residential tower on Willingdon and Beresford with a commercial podium.

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Concord’s The Met is a 34-storey condo tower along Nelson. The company is also developing a 38-storey tower just south of The Met.

There is also a proposal for a 30-storey condo tower near Kemp and Wilson from BlueSky Properties.

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It is the recently announced plans from Sears though that are the most exciting. Sears Canada owns the land it occupies, which includes the Toys-R-Us downstairs, and surface and underground parking lots stretching to The Bay. The company is developing a master plan for the entire property, envisioning a new flagship store accompanied by five residential towers and two office towers. The proposal would re-develop nearly half the mall’s surface parking lots along Kingsway.

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To accommodate all the new residents and increasing transport demand, TransLink is planning to move forward with long planned upgrades to the SkyTrain station. The agency is beginning a public consultation process on the planned changes, with construction anticipated for 2014. The revised plan would see an extended western roof, new elevator capacity, additional stairs and escalators to the platform, and the relocation of the bus loop to Central Boulevard and Beresford Street.

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If TransLink’s plans come to fruition, the space currently occupied by the bus loop comes into play, providing the mall with an opportunity to build out right to the edge of the property.

With the bounty of residential and office towers underway, Metrotown is assured a major boost in its working and living population. However, a large population has never been sufficient to create a truly livable and vibrant neighbourhood. In this regard, it is the latest wave of project’s locations and design that matters the most.

All are bringing development closer to the heart of the area – the mall. With a focus on commercial podiums and new street grids, activity that used to concentrate in the mall is being distributed throughout the neighbourhood.

While it will remain to be seen whether the plans are successful, Metrotown is finally on the path to fulfilling its potential as the urban heart of Burnaby and a truly complementary urban centre to Downtown Vancouver.

Comments

  1. Jesse L Hausner

    I think all the development is truly exciting for a few reasons too. Firstly it is realizing the potential of Metrotown as you’ve pointed out but secondly, it is further enforcing the fact that urbanization and jobs/residences are migrating away from Downtown Vancouver and more towards the heart of Metro Vancouver.

    While Vancouver will for the next 50 years at least, still be the dominant force within Metro Vancouver, my people starting to migrate and office space also starting to move (1 new tower and as you said with Sears, potentially 2 more office towers for 5 total in MetroTown not including Telus and a few others west of Metrotown) which ultimately will, I think, help Surrey and Coquitlam.

    Both Surrey and Coquitlam are starting to be seen less as “way out there” by people in the region and Burnaby is certainly (with Brentwood too) setting a standard for these other 2 regional centers to use as an example. Coquitlam is already on its way and Surrey has improved in recent years with regards to urbanization of the town cores but both still have a ways to go in order to truly enter into the discussion.

    In a few years it will be difficult to recognize Metrotown and that’s for exciting reasons.