Another tall urban peak will be added to the emerging downtown Surrey area, following Surrey City Council’s decision on Monday that provided the Global Education City Education Mega Centre (GEC EMC) tower application with final approval in its third reading.
The mixed-use institutional and student housing project will be built at 10240 City Parkway, replacing the Stardust roller rink, which underwent demolition earlier this month. This site is immediately southeast of SkyTrain’s Surrey City Centre Station and bus exchange.
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Over the last five years, since the project was first announced as a partnership between Sprott Shaw College owner CIBT Education Group and local developer WestStone Group, the tower’s design and uses have seen some changes that reflect fluctuating market conditions.
The project’s construction cost is estimated at $270 million, and the property for development was acquired in August 2019 for about $23 million.
“With new developments in recent months indicating a burgeoning real estate market in Metro Vancouver, we are pleased to receive the approval for our rezoning application for GEC Education Mega Center,”said Toby Chu, chairman, president, and CEO of CIBT, in a statement.
“The current trajectory of the local real estate market value is expected to boost our real estate portfolio value as construction costs remain steady while interest rates remain low. These combined effects are expected to lower our construction costs and increase our various projects’ exit-value.”
The original height was previously up to 626 ft with 55 storeys, which would make it Metro Vancouver’s second tallest tower if it were constructed today. But to improve efficiency and lower construction costs, the tower’s height is now shorter at 545 ft with 49 storeys, including a six-storey podium.
Even with the reduced height, it is still Surrey’s tallest tower — about 30 ft taller than the nearby 3 Civic Tower — and higher than anything else that is proposed or also already approved.
“The tower is ordered by its signature crown that ties into vertical fins on both the east and west facades. These fins provide a vertical counterpoint to the horizontal banding of the residential floors,” reads a city staff report describing the tower’s design by Chris Dikeakos Architects.
“The proposed density and building form are appropriate for this part of Surrey City Centre, which will form part of the future high-density mixed-use area within the provisional Central Business District of the City Centre Plan, concentrating office and institutional space near Surrey Central Station. The proposed development conforms with the goal of achieving high-rise, high density development around the three City Centre SkyTrain Stations.”
Another change focuses on housing tenure; it was previously proposed as a dedicated student housing building, but the now-approved revisions adjust the housing mix and does not specify student housing. Instead, while homes will still be marketed to students, there will be some flexibility for these homes to be available to the public as well.
GEC EMC will now have a total of 383 residential units, with a unit mix of 112 studios, 135 two-bedroom units, and 135 three-bedroom units. Levels eight to 34 contain 215 two- and three-bedroom student-centric rental units and corporate housing, while levels 35 to 48 contain 168 studio and two-bedroom market rental units.
This provides the project with a total of 787 bedrooms for up to 982 occupants.
Approximately 18,200 sq. ft. of shared residential indoor amenity space will be spread over the seventh, 49th, and partial 50th rooftop level. All three indoor amenity spaces also open up to expansive outdoor amenity decks with lounge seating, outdoor BBQ, foosball, ping pong tables, landscaping, and other features.
The lower six levels of the building, totalling about 93,000 sq. ft. of floor area, will be used as office and institutional space. This includes the relocation of Sprott Shaw College’s Surrey campus — currently located within a 10,000 sq. ft. space nearby — to become the tower’s anchor tenant.
These lower floors will accommodate at least five post-secondary institutions looking to expand their presence in Surrey City Centre. According to CIBT, they have “received tremendous interest” in their discussions with numerous universities and colleges across Canada and abroad.
The student housing component could potentially also benefit students studying at the nearby Simon Fraser University (SFU) and Kwantlen Polytechnic University campuses.
Additionally, 5,000 sq. ft. of commercial retail space on the ground level will include a cafeteria-style restaurant with a premium food market.
A generous public realm is proposed for the tower’s base, including large setbacks and public plazas. This aligns with the municipal government’s plan to turn City Parkway into a pedestrian-friendly street over time.
Seven underground levels will contain 370 vehicle parking stalls, which is 21% fewer than what is required by the city. This is offset by the location’s proximity to public transit and its offering of 521 bike parking spaces that exceeds requirements.
The total floor area is 404,000 sq. ft. for a floor area ratio density that is 7.5 times larger than the 45,000 sq. ft. site.
Construction on GEC Education Mega Centre is now anticipated to begin after Summer 2021 for a completion by late 2024 or early 2025.
Immediately to the west, the City of Surrey has plans to redevelop the parking lot, bus exchange, and the closed North Surrey Recreation Centre complex into 1.45 million sq. ft. of office and retail space within a number of towers. This city-led project will be a redevelopment with only commercial and institutional space, including a major expansion of the SFU campus. No residential space is planned.
CIBT owns several private educational institutions, but over the last decade it has also diversified greatly as a builder and operator of student housing across the region. Its student housing portfolio under the GEC brand entails 1.5 million sq. ft. spread over 11 projects in 16 buildings that are proposed, approved, under construction or already exist.
It took over a secured market rental housing project currently being built near the Canada Line’s King Edward Station, and last fall it acquired the existing rental housing component of the MC1 and MC2 residential complex next to Marine Drive Station.
Just last month, Vancouver City Council approved CIBT’s rezoning application to build a student rental housing tower next to Oakridge-41st Avenue Station.
The company also has two other major projects in Richmond, including an under-construction project integrated into a private developer’s mixed-use development next to Lansdowne Station, and a rezoning application for a riverfront institutional and student housing campus just west of Aberdeen Station.
In August, CIBT, which is listed on the TSX, announced it is considering spinning off its GEC student real estate subsidiary as a separately listed entity.