When travellers to Vancouver arrive via the international terminal of YVR, one of the first things they see is a billboard-sized aerial view of the city’s downtown core.
Shimmering in the foreground is a string of skyscrapers running along the southeast shore. “Redefining skylines,” reads the ad for Concord Pacific Developments Inc.
It’s a bold greeting, and perfectly true. Over the course of more than two decades, Concord Pacific has erected 55 high-rises in downtown Vancouver, substantially altering the city’s skyline. (Plans for an additional 15 are in the works.)
Now, the real-estate giant has equal ambitions for the City of Surrey.
“With 70 percent of population growth to be south of the Fraser River, we felt it important to expand beyond Vancouver,” said Grant Murray, vice president of sales for Concord Pacific. “Surrey, in particular, we feel will go very high density.”
In a telephone interview, Murray told the Straight that the company’s current investment in Surrey is just shy of $750 million.
Concord Pacific has completed two 36-story skyscrapers it calls Park Place at Whalley Boulevard (near the intersection of 100 Avenue and King George Boulevard. Today (June 22), units in two 41-story towers called Park Avenue (at 100 Avenue and Whalley Boulevard) go up for sale. And two more high-rises called Park Boulevard are planned to stand between 35 and 39 stories just south of the Park Place towers.
“That’s going to keep us busy for a few years,” Murray said. “A minimum of six high-rises in total…and beyond that, we’re looking at more site areas that we could potentially pick up.”
On June 18, Concord Pacific also opened a $2.5-million presentation centre adjacent to the Surrey Central SkyTrain station. A flashy event for media was attended by more than 100 people, including Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and Simon Fraser University Surrey executive director Joanne Curry.
Other developers are moving into Surrey alongside Concord Pacific. In March 2013, Century Group, for example, announced plans for Three Civic Plaza, a $150-million complex including a 52-storey residential tower in the same area of Surrey where Concord Pacific is focused. Simon Fraser University is another major stakeholder in downtown Surrey, or City Centre, as it is known.
Murray said that Concord Pacific’s new interest in Surrey follows $5 billion worth of infrastructure injected into the city's downtown core over the last five years, as well as the lead of Mayor Watts.
“The message we’re taking is, the future isn’t in the future, it’s now,” Murray said. “Surrey has backed that up by opening up its new city hall in the downtown core—a city hall that is not just a city hall, but a civic plaza that makes for this urban kind of lifestyle that we’re trying to create.”
He added that Concord Pacific’s move was only natural, given the shift in demographics playing out across the region.
According to the 2011 census conducted by Statistics Canada, the City of Vancouver’s population is just over 603,000, while Surrey’s stands at 468,000 (502,000 in 2013, according to Surrey city planners). But that’s changing fast. Between 2006 and 2011, Statistics Canada reported a 4.4 percent change in population for Vancouver, and an 18.6 percent increase for Surrey.
According to estimates published on the City of Surrey’s website, by 2031, one in five Metro Vancouver residents will call Surrey home. “Surrey's population is projected to increase by a further 250,000 people in the next three decades,” the city states.
Lance Berelowitz worked on a “transit village plan” for Surrey City Centre in 2007. The plan was superseded by subsequent proposals, but its fundamental design—with public transit at the centre of Surrey’s downtown core—has remained the same.
Surrey council has pushed for three surface-level light-rail lines from Surrey City Centre going to Newton, Guildford, and the City of Langley. According to TransLink, this would cost $2.18 billion.
In a telephone interview, Berelowitz, principal of Urban Forum Associates, told the Straight that Concord Pacific’s entry into Surrey is likely a reaction to demographics, the appeal of SkyTrain, and Watts's efforts to rebrand the city as something more than a suburb.
“My sense is that Surrey is very much sending a message out that that they are open for business,” he said. “By all accounts, Diane Watts seems to be very aggressively courting new development and urbanization and, as the mayor there, seems to be setting Surrey up as a viable alternative, as she sees it, to downtown Vancouver’s dominance.”
Five year later, that’s what’s happening, Berelowitz continued. “When we looked at it [in 2007], Surrey certainly was saying, ‘We want to create a downtown that can compete with and compare with Vancouver,' ” he said. “It’s clearly starting to take on the airs and graces of more of an urban city.”
Murray compared the current state of Surrey City Centre to Yaletown of 20 years ago.
“By 2031, it’s going to be pretty dynamic out in there,” he said. “That’s what caught everyone’s attention. Surrey is growing up a lot faster than anybody anticipated.”