It’s finally happening.
After more than a decade of planning, construction is set to begin on the Oakridge Centre redevelopment by the end of the year for a full completion in 2025.
And the international team behind the ambitious project says it was worth the wait, as they were able to refine the design to a world-class standard not seen anywhere else in the country.
In fact, the redevelopment in its final form is something more akin to what you would find emerging now in places like Singapore.
“I feel like now I have a few projects where I can legitimately say, at the risk of hyperbole, that it’s amongst the best work going on in the world today,” Ian Gillespie, founder of Westbank, told Daily Hive at the project’s exhibition at Whistler’s Audain Art Museum.
“If you were to bring someone from Tokyo, Singapore, London, or Hong Kong, they’d say ‘okay, this is as good as anything happening in the world right now.'”
The 28.5-acre property was acquired by local developer Quadreal Property Group from longtime owner Ivanhoe Cambridge last year with the intention of moving forward with the redevelopment.
Since then, the project team has grown to 50 firms, with the design team alone consisting of five architectural firms, including project lead Henriquez Partners Architects, Tokyo-based interior design firm Wonderwall, locally-based firm PFS, San Francisco-based Gensler, and Toronto-based Adamson Associates Architects.
Unlike previous designs that retained significant portions of the existing shopping centre, the new Oakridge Centre – described by the lead architect as a “hilltop town” on its own – will be a new, purpose-built complex.
“We’re not just recapturing parking and grafting residential onto the existing shopping centre, Oakridge is a fully integrated experience,” said Remco Daal, president of Canadian Real Estate for QuadReal Property Group. “As a consequence, our design requires that every square inch of the retail of Oakridge be newly built.”
Only the office building and the residential building, which is not owned by the development team, at the corner of Cambie Street and West 41st Avenue will be retained.
While there will not be any improvements to the exterior of the residential building, the office building will be re-skinned to ensure its look blends in with the rest of the redevelopment.
The floor area of retail at the new multi-storey shopping centre will almost double from the existing 574,000 sq. ft. to about one million sq. ft., with an east-west galleria spine running from the SkyTrain station to the development’s western edge.
There will also be a new indoor mall area on the existing site and a pedestrian-only, outdoor high-street lined with retail running north-south along the length of the mall’s perimeter to the west.
A new public perimeter road will also run on the western edge of the property.
A large 50,000 sq. ft. food court is planned, but it will be a departure from the traditional food court format with its ‘Kitchen’ concept.
“The idea is that when you go to a house party or have a party at your house, everybody inevitably ends up in the kitchen. And so we kind of said to ourself, why is that and how does that manifest itself?” said Gillespie.
Approximately 6,000 people will live in 2,600 residential units within 10 towers and four mid-rise buildings, with the mid-rise buildings dedicated to 290 units of rental housing and 290 units of social housing.
New office space, with large, open floor plans geared for the tech and creative industries, for 3,000 employees will be located in the lower floors of the towers near the SkyTrain station.
As part of the redevelopment’s community benefits, the developer will build a new 100,000 sq. ft. community centre at the northwest corner of the site. It will include community spaces, seniors centre, a daycare facility, and the new second largest branch of the Vancouver Public Library.
“The future of the library is no longer about holding books anymore,” said Gillespie. “It’s a place to bring the community together, to reeducate ourselves, to relearn, to meet our neighbours, [and] to work our laptop. Everything’s changing.”
On the roof of the new indoor mall will be a nine-acre public park operated by the Vancouver Park Board. A public consultation process on the park’s design recently launched by the Park Board indicates park features could include a one kilometre-long running track, large open playing fields, playground, community garden, and quiet contemplation areas.
Portions of the green space at the northwest corner, where the community centre is located, and southeast corner will begin at the ground level before transitioning to the rooftop through a series of grand staircases. There will be multiple entrances to the rooftop from the mall, street, and other public areas.
Open rooftop space will also double as a large music venue for up to 3,000 attendees, and when combined with other performance areas scattered across the site the shopping centre could potentially hold music festivals.
There will even be space for the Goh Ballet, which will triple the size of its academy at its new school at Oakridge Centre.
The project also promises to offer the largest public art program in the city’s history.
Overall, the latest Oakridge Centre design takes the conditions and framework of Vancouver City Council’s approved 2014 rezoning and improves it even further, including additional terracing and integration with the landscape.
“There’s been about 24 micro and seven or eight major improvements which all have allowed it to get better,” said Gregory Henriquez, the managing partner of Henriquez Partners Architects. “The more time you give us, the better we can make the project for sure.”
A substantial portion of the existing mall will remain open during the entire 6.5-year-long construction process, which is separated into three different phases.
The Oakridge Centre redevelopment is easily the largest application of upward economies of scale for a single project in the city; all the amenities and community benefits that have been outlined would not be possible without its sheer size.
“What the scale allows us to do is to make some big moves that wouldn’t otherwise be possible and starting with a nine acre park,” said Gillespie.
“You can’t do a 100,000 square foot community centre unless you have scale to pay for it, and just to physically locate it. You can’t afford to do the performing arts school or the live music venues or all of the other cultural amenities of the public art.”
Gillespie added that the planned district energy system depends on scale to make it work.
“With having all this scale, we don’t toss that opportunity or treat it lightly,” he said
“We have taken advantage of that opportunity, because otherwise it’s just a big project and the world doesn’t need another big project. The world needs some really smart projects.”
Oakridge Centre is the first major redevelopment project in the region to undergo a re-think about its parking needs in relation to the future of mobility.
As a result, even though 6,000 parking stalls – all outfitted with electric vehicle chargers – are planned for residents, workers, and visitors, there will actually be less parking for a project of its size. Comparatively, Metropolis at Metrotown, with its 1.8 million sq. ft. of retail floor area, has about 8,500 stalls.
Gillespie said some of the reduction in parking was a result of the decision to move forward with less retail (nearly 400,000 sq. ft. less retail than the 2014 plan due to the aquifer below the site), but the more significant change was a redesign of the parking area by “looking at parking differently.”
“If you’re not self-parking, then you don’t need nearly as much area for the same amount of parking stalls. If you’re mechanical parking or if it’s valet parking, you’re rethinking how the garage actually works.”
And with less parking requirements, it means the developer will not have to dig deeper and intrude into the aquifer at a high cost – it could put the project at risk of going over budget by as much as nine figures.
“I guess when we did previous designs with Ivanhoe Cambridge, we learned that as we started to develop the plans we started to learn the economic realities of going into the aquifer, married with the passage of time with autonomous vehicles, different types and modes of transportation are coming, and less parking would be needed going forward,” said Henriquez.
“Why build into an aquifer if you don’t have to? Why build extra parking that won’t be needed in the future?”
The project will be depending on other modes of transportation, particularly public transit – specifically capacity improvements to Canada Line service, including a proposed expansion of Oakridge-41st Station, and the new B-Line rapid bus service coming to 41st Avenue between UBC and Joyce-Collingwood Station in 2019.
The mix of retail at the new shopping centre will shift upward trajectory, with luxury brands, top local retailers, unique local concepts, and first market experiences. There will also be space for some major anchor tenants.
“The mix of retail that represents the best purveyors and customer experience around the world will be found here,” said Daal.
“The future of great retail will be dominated by those that deliver engaging portals into unique brands and products and provide spaces where people want to spend time, where they want to come to learn, be inspired, try new things, and co-create.”
Gillespie also added to this thought: “I look at what retailers are evolving, and which retailers you can forecast that can get that disruption and evolution right. At the end of the day, we need a project that appeals to all of Vancouver, and so I think it’s more about coming up with interesting and intellectually stimulating places you’d want to go.”
“Yes, you could buy it online, but you also want to come here because it’s fun,” continued Gillespie. “You want to see your friends, you’re going to grab something to eat, and it appeals to all of your senses.”
According to a recent Retail Council of Canada report, Oakridge Centre is currently the second most profitable shopping centre in the country – just behind Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre – with $1,579 sales per sq. ft.
“We now have a second municipal town centre, that’s a big deal,” said Gillespie. “That’s a big, big change in the history and fabric of our city.”
While some other cities in the region have multiple town centres, a secondary town centre – beyond the metropolitan area within downtown Vancouver and Central Broadway – will be a first for Vancouver.
Oakridge Centre will be the core of the new regionally-designated municipal town centre. Additional densification, subject to the City’s long-term planning process, within a one kilometre radius of the intersection of West 41st Avenue and Cambie Street, will increase the area’s population by 50,000 people.
Other redevelopments in the area are expected to be more organic and piece-meal of nature.
“I think Oakridge is one of the rare communities that has embraced densification and as it’s on a major transit line, it made perfect sense for the city to look at it as another municipal town centre,” said Henriquez. “And it’s also near the geographical centre of Vancouver.”
When complete, the new Oakridge Centre is expected to attract 42 million visitors per year, including 26 million shoppers, five million cultural visitors, two million library visitors, four million residential visitors, and five million park visitors.
Oakridge Centre is one of four major redevelopment clusters along the Cambie Street corridor spurred by the Canada Line’s presence. Other clusters are located at 33rd Avenue (Heather Street Lands/former RCMP headquarters), 57th Avenue (Pearson Dogwood redevelopment), and Marine Drive.