The first phase of the Era Maple Ridge development is nearing completion, and has sold out. (Neil Corbett/The News)

The first phase of the Era Maple Ridge development is nearing completion, and has sold out. (Neil Corbett/The News)

Downtown Maple Ridge growing up

Focus on growth in city’s core brings revitalization

Maple Ridge entrepreneurs Bruce Johnston and Tom Meier dreamed of helping to construct a new downtown in Maple Ridge.

It’s happening now, as their Era Maple Ridge development is close to completing the first phase along Dewdney Trunk Road, and the second phase will feature the tallest building in the city – a 22-storey highrise.

The two businessmen went into partnership in 1973, and now have 41 Johnston Meier Insurance offices across the province. Over the years, they bought land along Dewdney Trunk Road, just west of their insurance office at the junction with 224th Street.

“We started this a long time ago, with the acquisition of properties,” said Meier, and expressed how gratifying it is that buildings are finally going up.

“I’m so sorry Bruce didn’t make it, to see it. It’s our dream coming true.”

Johnston passed away in January of 2020.

His legacy, in part, will be a seven-phase development on a 7.4 acre site in the city centre. It will have new commercial space along Dewdney Trunk Road, and some 1,500 new apartment and townhouse units. Johnston and Meier wanted to see their home town grow up, retaining a vital downtown core, rather than spreading out like other cities in the valley that have been a hodgepodge of stip malls and big box stores, with a dying town centre.

The first phase of the billion-dollar project consists of three condo buildings with rows of townhouses between them. The north building will be six storeys in height, while the south buildings will be four and five storeys. There will be retail spaces facing Dewdney Trunk Road.

The upcoming second and third phase will see construction of a two storey amenities clubhouse with a pool, gymnasium, golf simulator, offices and more. It will also feature a 20-storey apartment building which will be the highest in the city. Occupants will have views of the Fraser River in the south or mountains in the north. There will be more highrise developments in the later phases.

Nadja Gehriger, vice-president of developer Swissreal, expects to begin construction on the second and third phases by the end of summer 2022, with a construction time of approximately 2.5 years.

The developer hopes to have phases four and five designed and approved, so there will be little pause between the completion of one phase and the start of the next.

Gehriger is confident the tower, which should offer occupants spectacular views of the Fraser River or Golden Ears Mountains, will see almost 200 units sell quickly.

“The market is now there for a highrise – the Maple Ridge market is so strong,” said Gehriger. “Our hope is to change and revitalize the downtown core.”

“We’re excited about it – we’d launch (sales) tomorrow).”

City Hall is encouraging growth and redevelopment of the town centre area, to enhance economic activity.

City director of planning Chuck Goddard notes ERA is by far the biggest development in the town centre being done by a single developer. However, there are numerous smaller projects by comparison, which include residential towers, and many six-storey wood frame apartment complexes. City council has encouraged commercial space at the ground level, over several different terms of councils now, said Goddard.

“We’ve always tried to focus on keeping development in the town centre,” he noted, adding that the city’s Town Centre Plan has been a guiding document since 2006.

The city’s Lougheed Transit Corridor Plan has also produced smaller 50 and 100-unit apartment complexes along the highway.

Goddard has worked at city hall for 17 years, and said “This is by far the busiest we’ve been. And there’s no end in sight.”

He doesn’t expect development to slow, noting that Metro forecasts growth across the Lower Mainland of approximately 35,000 people per year, and new housing will be needed to accommodate them.

“It’s a good place to live,” said Meier. “It’s a good place to bring up families, and when you walk down the street in Maple Ridge, you see moms and dads and children.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Bill Dingwall said a major housing project there includes the 120-unit, $46 million affording housing project for seniors, people with disabilities, and families from Metro Vancouver.

He said the project is still in the planning stages, and will come before council in 2022.

“That’s a big one, and it’s one of the things we’re most proud of,” said Dingwall.

Onni’s new Nature’s Walk townhome development is a 220-unit development on Airport Way, featuring three and four bedroom homes, and amenities including an outdoor pool.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge council OKs special zone for huge project

READ ALSO: Metro working to bring affordable housing to Pitt Meadows

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