So if they actually build a big-box mall down on the wetlands of Albion flats, how big should it be? How big could it be?
According to the economist who wrote one of the background reports for Maple Ridge district, the local market could support no grand plan that would re-invent retail.
G.P. Rollo Associates says a likely shopping scenario is a mall of only 112,000 square feet, smaller in size than even Haney Place Mall at 190,000 sq. ft.
The reason for such a modest proposal is because planning is underway for a new 400,000-sq.-foot mall on the north side of Lougheed Highway in Pitt Meadows, while Kwantlen First Nation is planning another 300,000 sq. ft. of big-box stores, as well as residential, on its reserve land in east Maple Ridge at Lougheed Highway and 260th Street.
If both of those projects get underway, Rollo says that will curb designs in Albion flats.
Even by 2025 with those two malls in place, the market only could support a 240,000-sq.-foot mall in Albion, it says in its report, Analysis of Land Use Demands and Implications for Albion Flats.
Those in the business, though, have greater expectations.
If the land is zoned and designated for commercial, eventually it will be occupied. Maple Ridge realtor Ron Antalek says the area could support a 500,000-sq.-foot shopping development.
“I believe it could be absorbed,” Antalek said Friday.
“My gut feeling is that it would be successful. I think it’s a recipe for success.”
Antalek maintains that confidence even with Kwantlen First Nation developing its big box complex on Lougheed and 250th Street.
Kwantlen First Nation rolled out plans for its Lougheed Highway land last year and it includes a mall with two big-box stores, up to 450 homes and an eco-recreation area along the Fraser River.
Antalek, along with Mayor Ernie Daykin, says that developing Albion flats, with commercial, retail, education, business park or recreation, will help, not hurt downtown stores.
Thrifty Foods’s recent announcement saying it will open in 2012 in Haney Place Mall is proof of that.
“They came to town knowing that Albion flats is on the agenda. They’re not afraid of it,” Antalek said.
He agreed that the east side of 105th Avenue in Albion flats is more suitable for development. Once the zoning is in place, depending on what the land commission approves for release from the agricultural reserve, investors would be more comfortable about putting up their money.
“I think there will be some great things,” he said.
One of the leading commercial real estate companies has the same view.
Ryan Hall, senior associate with CB Richard Ellis, doesn’t have a specific size of mall that could be built in the flats, but says there’s some pent-up demand because not all retailers could be accommodated in Meadowtown Centre, the most recent mall built five years ago.
“What I have found, historically, with Walmart developments … if you build it, they will come.”
Hall pointed out that some large big box retailers will not likely be interested in Pitt Meadows due to the close proximity of their existing locations in the neighbouring Tri-Cities.”
Home Depot could be interested in Maple Ridge for that reason.
Hall said the big banks also like the flats location because they’re following the growth of Silver Valley and Albion subdivisions.
Whatever’s built there, though, still would be based on automotive transportation.
Hall said perhaps the development could resemble the “lifestyle village” Grandview Corners, which occupies 50 acres in south Surrey at 160th Street and 24th Avenue. That mall has 550,000 sq. feet of commercial space, including a Walmart Supercentre.