New Westminster's urban revival
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On a walking tour of the area with the Straight, Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Association executive director Kendra Johnston and Tourism New Westminster’s Tej Kainth point to the elegantly refurbished brick Burr Block, a Victorian Romanesque Revival structure that includes the boutique Met Hotel.
“The building survived the great fire of 1898, and is still flourishing today,” Johnston says.
Kendra Johnston describes the historic Burr Block on Columbia Street.
Kainth notes enthusiastically that it’s one of four hotels in the city, the largest being the Inn at the Quay. The two women, both in their 30s, also want to talk about DiverseCity, which is a daylong multicultural festival at Westminster Quay on May 19. Kainth, whose parents immigrated from Punjab, points out that the city has been home to people from diverse backgrounds for generations. Chinese pioneers, Japanese fishermen, Italians, and some of B.C.’s earliest immigrants from India all settled in the city, often in the Queensborough area, where its first Sikh temple was built in 1919.
New West will also host its third annual Pride festival from August 16 to 19, which includes a march up the hill from the downtown. “There’s a miniparade from 6th and Columbia up to City Hall called Heels n’ Hills,” Johnston says.
A few minutes later, she points to the Brooklyn Pub on the eastern edge of the downtown, noting that it will undergo major renovations this summer. There’s plenty of speculation that residential units will be built on top.
Fraser River Discovery Centre executive director Catherine Oullet-Martin talks about an aboriginal-fishery exhibit coming in June.
Then, they walk down to the local vegan store, called Karmavore, which has been attracting people from across the region to its downstairs location since it opened nearly three years ago.
A customer, Brenda Hotte, has come all the way from her home near Granville Island. She professes to be “blown away” by the neighbourhood. “I love it—the buildings and the history,” she says. “I think it has lots of potential.”
Next door at the Urban Gypsy, a four-and-a-half-year-old home-furnishing store featuring Hindu- and Buddhist-style furniture and statues, owner Jason McGill welcomes the economic development.
He admits that it’s been tough to operate a retail business in the past, but points out that the area is attracting more young couples.
“I think it’s on a cusp right now that it has been slowly going on,” McGill says. Later, he suggests that the area “is going to explode” in popularity.
Urban Gypsy owner Jason McGill shows off his store on Columbia Street.
New Westminster isn’t without its challenges. A railway line divides the downtown core from the waterfront, which will make access to the new park a little more difficult.
Cote also expresses concerns about the massive amount of traffic along major transportation arteries such as Front Street, Royal Avenue, McBride Boulevard, and 10th Avenue. A fair amount comes via the Pattullo Bridge, which TransLink hopes to replace with a new structure with greater capacity.
“The city has over 450,000 vehicles driving through the city each commuter day,” he says. “So that has a huge impact, a negative impact, on livability,” he says.
Cote wonders if the time has come to consider decommissioning the Pattullo Bridge, given the looming opening of a new Port Mann Bridge and the underutilization of the Golden Ears Bridge. The Alex Fraser Bridge also connects New Westminster with North Delta.
“I don’t know if you remember when the Pattullo Bridge caught fire a few years ago, and it was closed for a few weeks,” Cote comments. “It was night and day, the changes that took place in New Westminster from a neighbourhood perspective. You did not have near the traffic problems. It just gave you this glimmer of hope of what you could really see here.”
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.