There are still empty spaces, vacant lots throughout Maple Ridge’s downtown, just not as many as before.
With the arrival of a film studio, Rexall Drugs and this year’s opening of Walmart in the vacant spot formerly occupied by Zellers, then Target, the central area is active.
“We get a lot of negative feedback from the downtown, but there are not a lot of empty spots anymore,” said Coun. Craig Speirs.
He’s also happy with this year’s change in ownership in the Haney Place Mall, now owned by Smart Real Estate Investment Trust.
“Now we have a deep-pocketed owner of that mall.”
Maybe the new owner will continue improvements or make further major changes to the mall, he said.
Speirs added that work will continue to try to make the downtown a people-friendly place.
He favours repairing the plumbing of the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre, a $6-million project, instead of tearing down the entire complex and replacing it with a hotel or convention centre.
Instead, the latter could possibly go in the old Mussallem Motors dealership on 223rd Street and Lougheed Highway, or in the location of the Haney Plaza on Dewdney Trunk Road and 222nd Street.
Downtown businessman and council colleague Bob Masse says the arrival of Walmart is a bellwether for economic development of a city, that shows confidence.
“All I’ve heard is good things,” Masse said.
This year’s purchase by Falcon Homes of the city’s three acres on Selkirk Avenue and 226th Street for $7 million will allow that developer to continue building its condos, and increasing the population base, across from the Haney Place Mall.
That will project will take place over time. Meanwhile, in the same area, the city has almost finished building a new sidewalk along Selkirk, south of the mall, improving the pedestrian environment.
The final stage of the downtown improvement project, rebuilding Lougheed Highway between 226th and 224th streets, has yet to begin.
Masse pointed out that the earlier incentives for building condos in the downtown have expired, and are now replaced by those that encourage commercial development.
“So we definitely want to encourage more economic development, more jobs.”
Council recently gave first reading to a proposal to put 450 homes for one of the gateways to the downtown, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure lands on Lougheed Highway, west of Kanaka Way.
But council wants to ensure that the Haney Bypass will be improved along with that.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read has pressed her case with the ministry for widening the bypass and for improving the intersections at either end, 222nd Street and Kanaka Way.
Work continues on Meridian Meats and Seafood building at the corner of 227th Street and Dewdney Trunk Road.
One of Masse’s pet projects is the opening of a post secondary institute in Maple Ridge. The concept is to have major universities offer first-year courses in Maple Ridge, allowing students to pick and choose from a variety. They can then transfer to second year of whatever program they choose.
University of the Fraser Valley, SFU, Douglas College, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and BCIT have all shown interest.
“The big hang up is the government’s real reluctance to commit to capital costs,” said Masse.
“How big a facility do we really need?”
Another meeting takes place in March.
“The whole point is to make education far more accessible, because it hasn’t been.”
A study showed that Maple Ridge has lower participation rates in post secondary education because of a lack of access.