Concord Pacific follows shifting demographics with a big move into Surrey

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      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.”

      A regional shift in demographics means Surrey is expected to play home to one in five residents of Metro Vancouver by 2031.
      Concord Pacific

      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.

      Public transit is at the core of Surrey and developers plans to transform the city's downtown core.
      Concord Pacific

      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.”

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      Jun 22, 2013 at 11:19am

      I sincerely hope that increased density in "town centres" is the direction for the future. We've learned over the decades that single-family subdivisons are bad for many families, bad for agriculture, bad for the environment, bad for wildlife ... and the list goes on.

      Diane Watts has detractors of course, but at least she seems to have a vision: Concentrate urban growth where it makes sense, and protect the rural areas that most long-time residents of Surrey view as highly valuable.

      Katherine K.

      Jun 22, 2013 at 1:26pm

      Unfortunately Watts has been hyper focused on building a downtown Surrey to the detriment of other neighbourhoods. Take a drive along the King George Hwy into Newton and south to Hwy 10. It's the new downtown east side. This reflects poorly on her and on Surrey in general. It's sad and very short sighted and will become evident at the polls in 2014. The development at all costs mentality has to slow down.


      Jun 22, 2013 at 3:20pm

      @ Katherine:

      I know Surrey very well, including the King George Blvd (not Hwy). But I also know that no city council can fix all problems simultaneously. That's why Vancouver has Yaletown bordered by the DES. Is that a "fix" in your brain? Really?

      Also, you don't seem to understand that the Metro area has regional growth strategies - it's not just about Surrey. Look it up.

      The 2014 election will be interesting. I wonder if those who don't support adult strategies, as Watts does, will get a single vote?

      Not a chance.

      Alan Layton

      Jun 22, 2013 at 9:45pm

      This type of development makes sense since there really is no other direction to grow, but upwards. Just look at a Google view of the lower mainland and you'll see nothing but mountains to the north and east, the US border to the south and the ocean to the west. There's very little flat land in this part of the world so there are few choices for growth.

      My main question about Surrey is, what exactly does it do to make a living? Is it going to remain a suburb, or are there plans to become a 'centre' for something? Where will this massive increase of population work? I don't see it becoming a tourist destination and they don't have major port facilities like Vancouver and Delta. Other than being a relatively affordable place to live (for now) I just don't see what Surrey has to offer, at least at this stage.


      Jun 23, 2013 at 10:20am

      @ Alan Layton: A significant portion of the towers that have been/will be built in north Surrey are devoted to office space. Companies are being enticed to relocate there for two reasons: The space is cheaper, and average working people live closer.

      Industrial tax revenue might be great for everybody, but the metro area isn't built that way. Like Vancouver, Surrey will "make its living" by becoming a major business centre.

      The good news for Vancouver is that when the city loses more large employers to Surrey, transit and bike lanes will become less important for Vancouver.

      Arm Chair

      Jun 23, 2013 at 11:47am

      Kudos to mayor Watts over the past decade for pulling Surrey from the drugs and murder marquee of BC. They deserve a fair shake of infrastructure investment.

      Hopefully this Concord project will create more character between their city blocks. Commuting out there is like driving through Twilight Zone - every block is the same dull visual.


      Jun 23, 2013 at 4:33pm

      Surrey is en route to dominate the future of Southwest British Columbia. In fact, it's focus on attracting jobs goes well beyond just looking Vancouver. They're looking to attract national head offices from Toronto and Calgary, as well as from overseas.

      Alan Layton

      Jun 23, 2013 at 5:09pm

      DavidH - thanks for the info, but don't count your chickens etc etc.


      Jun 24, 2013 at 2:07am

      where all those towers are supposed to go, is currently one of the last pseudo-affordable postal codes in the lower mainland, complete with relatively low rents, affordable places to shop, and social service agencies (like food banks) that help make it possible to survive there. as well as a huge homeless population, many of whom have been policed out of vancouver.

      well langley, here we come i guess!

      the gentrification slimewave continues unabated. the faceless condo farms are multiplying all over the region. who the hell will be able to afford all these overpriced little rat cages?

      and the best part, we get to see the full page colour ads for all of em in the front of the straight for the next few years...


      Jun 24, 2013 at 12:05pm

      @PissPoor; There are townships east of Surrey. By opening up a map, you may find fascinating places outside of your downtown bubble lifestyle. I encourage you to travel to other cities around the world to see an example (for better or worse) of density issues.