By Phil Melnychuk
Three empty acres on Selkirk Avenue in downtown Maple Ridge could be the place for post secondary education.
Maple Ridge Coun. Bob Masse, who’s on the task force trying to bring a multi-university campus to the city, wants council to make the site – a stone’s throw from Haney bus loop – the priority.
“To me, that should be top of mind.”
Focusing on that site could allow the district to offer the land as incentive for post-secondary schools to set up there.
“I think that leaves us a lot of room to do that,” Masse said.
Senior governments often want cities to contribute to major projects.
A post-secondary task force involving Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows and Mission has been trying to find a way to attract a university or college for the past few years. The goal is to get a variety of schools to have their satellite operations share building space, offering multiple course options.
“The No. 1 thing that would generate high-income job growth is post secondary education,” Masse said.
“I want us to really appreciate the potential that site has for making that happen.
“The downtown location would be fantastic.”
Council has yet to discuss that, but will soon, Masse pointed out.
With the Arts Centre Theatre, transportation and the Leisure Centre nearby, there’s “super good synergy there for making the community take a big leap forward.”
After trying to sell the city land two years ago, Maple Ridge renewed its offer last week to entice purchasers.
“What we want for those three acres is first-class, top-quality re-development,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin.
Part of what could result there is community and post-secondary school use.
“It’s going to have to be a partnership, or two or three institutes working together.”
So far, BCIT and Douglas College have shown some interest in setting up a satellite campus in Maple Ridge, Daykin said.
Douglas College has proposed that a centre of excellence for green building construction.
But Daykin said what happens depends on actually offers.
However, a post-secondary campus only would be a fraction of the development site.
Daykin said the city could sell the three acres and use proceeds to buy land elsewhere.
Maple Ridge bought the property between Haney Place and Valley Fair malls in 2011 for $3.7 million, to try and jump-start downtown development.
“I think we need to be open and creative in what gets done there,” Daykin said.
Another possible site for a post-secondary school could be the vacant provincial land straddling Lougheed Highway, just east of Kanaka Way. That’s currently for sale.
Daykin said both sites have potential and didn’t favour one over the other.
According to the request for proposals, offers should have mixed uses, such as residential and commercial. They should also be for a socially and environmentally sustainable development.
Coun. Corisa Bell, seeking re-election, sees the potential to put university type courses and mixed development downtown.
“It just makes so much sense. It’s just such an incredible concept,” she said.
“I absolutely would love to see it become university, see housing there, student housing, apartments for rent, bringing in an eclectic mix of individuals.”
She favours that site over the one on Lougheed Hwy.
“I really believe that it being in the downtown is what we need for transportation. It makes the most sense. There’s so much potential.”
Other mayoralty candidates have the same view.
“I would agree with looking at that, for sure,” said Mike Morden.
The new business incentive plan could also offer some for that property, he said.
Graham Mowatt, also running for mayor, said many universities in Metro Vancouver had private sponsorships to get underway.
“It would be nice if we could have some entrepreneurs in Maple Ridge come in and partner with the City of Maple Ridge.
“We’ll provide some land. They can provide some money. Let’s get the provincial government going and let’s get this thing on the map.”
However, the request for proposals doesn’t allow for that approach.