SmartCentres’ plan for a big box mall on Lougheed Highway is dead, but that doesn’t mean new projects won’t sprout elsewhere in the city.
Investors could now look at other places in Maple Ridge, including the downtown, said Sandy Blue, economic development manager.
“This is where the density will be. If I was looking, that’s one of the things I’d be looking for,” she added.
“When I talk to investors, they love that we have an identifiable town centre and with the amount of investment that’s happened here, it helps mitigate the risk.
“What may be happening now is people re-evaluating. I think we will start to see some inquiries.”
But Tom Meier, who’s proposed a multi-tower commercial-residential complex in the downtown, says what may or may not happen in Albion flats doesn’t affect downtown.
“That’s two different things. The big box down there is a different type of development.”
There still may a deal to be made for shopping in Albion flats, added Meier, who proposed in 2011 a multi-tower commercial-residential project for the northwest corner of 224th Street and Dewdney Trunk Road.
But there’s been no decision yet to proceed.
“Nothing yet. We don’t know when we’re going to go ahead. It’s all based on the economy.”
The current ample supply of condos in the downtown also discourages building now, he said.
“I will be doing more studies in 2015. It’s an ongoing thing.”
He wondered, though, why there were so many commercial vacancies in the downtown.
“What’s keeping people out? Why are they not coming here?”
He suggested the city save its three acres on Selkirk Avenue and 226th Street for a future underground parkade, combined with a park.
Thought has to be given for parking as the city grows, Meier said.
SmartCentres told city staff Dec. 22 that the finances no longer worked for a land swap, in which the company would get 13 acres of developable city land, the Albion fairgrounds, in exchange for 19 acres of SmartCentres’s land on the west side of 105th Avenue, which must remain in the Agricultural Land Reserve.
Blue said the decision to abandon the land swap coincides with new property tax incentives for commercial and job creation that become available this year and could benefit downtown development.
“The timing of this is really fortuitous with this Albion decision.”
Downtown realtor Adrian Keenan says that with Albion flats off the table, SmartCentres will look elsewhere to do a big-box mall.
SmartCentres also owns land in Pitt Meadows, on the north side of Lougheed Highway, west of Harris Road.
“If they can’t go to one place, they’ll go to another.”
However, Pitt Meadows council last fall rejected a development plan for the area because of the possible costs to the city for the roads and infrastructure required.
Keenan, who’s marketing several properties in the downtown, said there’s also “good impetus” for Maple Ridge’s core area, which the city has spent millions on improving as part of a goal to create a regional town centre.
If there’s only so much commercial space in the city, more could be attracted downtown to help build that vision.
He said few years ago, a major investor was interested in the former Mussallem Motors site on 223rd Street and Lougheed Highway. But the deal never went through.
However, Dave Mussallem told council in December the entire property will go up for sale once soil remediation is complete.
Once a remediation certificate has been issued, it’s a matter of enticing a developer to buy all the properties and put up a multi-use project.
Coun. Craig Speirs, who opposed a mall in the Albion flats, said SmartCentres’ decision to back out allows a fresh start in planning the area.
He credited the past council for trying to bring more shopping to Maple Ridge, but said Albion flats – in the Agricultural Land Reserve – is the wrong place to do it.
Council has been trying to develop a mall in Albion flats for 12 years.
“I think it was a waste of 10 years.”
Council spent $100,000 to create a balanced plan for the area, then ignored it and supported one in which commercial predominated, he added.
“That put us behind almost a decade. What a waste of time.”
The lingering thought has always been that developing the Albion flats would depress that downtown, he added.
“Why would you want to invest in our downtown when you have this cheap, big shopping mall just outside downtown?”