West Point Grey Village faces uncertain future as growth slows and rents increase

Apr 3 2018, 3:46 am

Emerging new retail and dining areas within the University of British Columbia campus are giving students and faculty less reason to leave campus and visit the original university-serving retail hub at West Point Grey, located just a five-minute bus ride away.

These changes have left the three-block-long stretch of retail, restaurants, and commercial services on West 10th Avenue between Tolmie Street and Discovery Street – also known as West Point Grey Village – struggling to survive.

It all began with the 2001 opening of University MarketPlace at the southeast corner of University Boulevard and Allison Road, just east of the edge of the academic campus near the main bus exchange. This is the residential and retail complex where about 30 businesses are located, including Staples, McDonald’s, Fresh Slice Pizza, Booster Juice, and Gold’s Gym.

There is even an international food court in the basement level of the MarketPlace, and H-Mart recently opened a convenience outpost.

UBC University Marketplace

University Marketplace at UBC. (Google Maps Streetview)

This was followed up by Wesbrook Village, located south of West 16th Avenue, which opened its first phase in 2010.

With further phases now complete, there are now approximately 50 businesses in this retail village, including a number of Asian restaurants and major anchors such as BC Liquor Store, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Save-On-Foods.

UBC Wesbrook Village

The new retail area at Wesbrook Village at UBC. (Google Maps Streetview)

UBC has also been upping its game by increasing its retail and dining options within its new student housing complexes and new academic and student life buildings.

Prior to 2001, West Point Grey Village was the only and largest retail hub west of Dunbar Street.

“They [UBC] have reduced the need for students and faculty to go off campus,” Justin Joyce, the Chief Operating Partner of Burgoo, told Daily Hive.

West Point Grey Village

Vacant retail spaces at West Point Grey Village. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

Burgoo opened its first restaurant location in West Point Grey Village in 2001, and has since expanded with four other locations elsewhere in the region. They are one of the area’s oldest tenants and have seen other businesses come and go.

“That development [at UBC] has been growing for 15 years, but it’s become such a dynamic place now with all different options that students and faculty can stay on campus, which I get from the perspective of the university,” said Joyce. “But from the perspective of an independent business operator in Point Grey, it’s much more challenging.”

There are roughly 90 businesses on the retail strip, which is served by the 99 B-Line and anchored by the longtime Safeway store.

But that Safeway store’s days are numbered, as it is one of a number of Sobey-owned grocery stores in Metro Vancouver that will close this summer. The Safeway has lost much of its market share to the large and new Save-On-Foods at UBC, and it is confirmed to close on July 5.

Aila Karpio, the Executive Director of the Point Grey Village Business Association, agrees that UBC’s commercial growth is a factor, but she also asserts that skyrocketing property taxes for commercial properties are making it difficult to run a small business in the low-density neighbourhood.

West Point Grey Village

Vacant retail spaces at West Point Grey Village. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

“When the landlords charge high, they are charged the tax and they pass it on to their tenants. So many business owners are finding that it’s too expensive to run a business in Point Grey,” said Karpio.

Joyce also attributed to West Point Grey Village’s downturn to property taxes, adding that it is “pretty hard” to sustain Burgoo’s location in the area.

“There has been a huge increase in property taxes, our building there is very expensive versus other more populated areas so that can be difficult,” said Joyce.

According to Karpio, changing demographics are another factor, and the businesses on the retail strip have not adapted to reflect changing tastes of the local populace.

“What we understand is there are quite a few young families moving into the area, so they may be haven’t found all that is here now,” she said. “And maybe because of cultural differences, they may be going to other neighbourhoods with stores that represent their own culture and background.”

West Point Grey Village

Vacant retail spaces at West Point Grey Village. (Kenneth Chan / Daily Hive)

Statistics Canada data confirms a demographic shift. Between 1996 and 2016, mother tongue English speakers fell from 74.3% to 63.6% while mother tongue Chinese speakers increased from 11.1% to 18.9%.

As well, the proportion of international students studying at UBC has quickly risen. In the five-year period between 2012 and 2016, international enrolment increased from 9,144 to 14,433, with students from China being the most significant group. The number of Chinese international students more than doubled from 2,212 to 4,929.

In the latest academic year, the number of international students further increased to over 16,300.

UBC International Students

Mix of international students studying at UBC between 2012 and 2016. (UBC)

The neighbourhood’s population has not grown and has essentially remained flat, with West Point Grey – a 4.5 sq. km. area framed by Alma Street to the east, West 16th Avenue to the south, Blanca Street to the west, and Burrard Inlet to the north – hovering at just 13,000 residents between 1996 and 2016.

Although if UBC’s market housing and student housing growth on the other side of Pacific Spirit Regional Park is accounted for, the population growth on this part of the peninsula is certainly significant.

“It’d be nice to see new developments come in, I think densification would really help the area. I’d love to see more growth,” said Joyce.

The largest near-term development in the neighbourhood is expected to be the redevelopment of the Safeway. Plans for a redevelopment seem to be ramping up. In July 2017, Daily Hive witnessed geotechnical drill testing conducted on the Sasamat Street edge of the property. According to the City of Vancouver, the work was for a “new private development in the area.”

Both Karpio and Joyce have also heard discussions about a redevelopment, but so far there have been no details over the scale of the project and whether it could include a replacement grocery store.

The Safeway site at Sasamat Street occupies about 70% of the city block, as the grocery store property includes three suburban-style, ground-level parking areas.

West Point Grey Village

Aerial view of the Safeway city block at West Point Grey Village. (Google Maps)

Just down the road on West 10th Avenue/University Boulevard at the eastern edge of the University Endowment Lands, construction is well underway on the Musqueam First Nation’s 21.4-acre Lelem redevelopment. This project will create 1,250 units of housing for up to 2,500 residents and its own retail village – 30,000 sq. ft. of restaurants, small businesses, cafes, and a grocery store.

Lelem UBC

The Musqueam Frist Nation’s Lelem redevelopment at Block F of the University Endowment Lands. (Musqueam First Nation)

But the most significant upcoming redevelopment will be the 90-acre Jericho Garrison Lands, which was acquired in 2014 by a consortium consisting of federal crown corporation Canada Lands Company and three local First Nations.

The proponents are working with the City of Vancouver on the possible framework that will guide the long-term redevelopment, which could more than double the population of the neighbourhood.

West Point Grey Village

Aerial view of West Point Grey Village, Jericho Garrison Lands, and the surrounding single-family residential neighbourhood. (Google Maps)

A source previously told Daily Hive the redevelopment could add as many as 20,000 residents to West Point Grey, with the scale of the development being a mixture of mid-rises similar to Olympic Village and townhouses like what is proposed for TransLink’s old Oakridge bus depot. It is unclear whether there will be a major retail component.

The future extension of the Millennium Line past Arbutus Street to UBC would also have a major impact on the area, of course. Preliminary studies by TransLink earlier in the decade showed a possible station at Sasamat Street, which would directly serve West Point Grey Village.

It remains to be seen whether the routing and station locations of the future subway extension will be affected by the Jericho Garrison Lands redevelopment.

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