Massive Squamish Nation mall may be coming to North Vancouver in 2014

IT TAKES A VILLAGE - Chief Ian Campbell outside the Squamish Nation building on the Seymour Creek lands.     - Todd Coyne
IT TAKES A VILLAGE - Chief Ian Campbell outside the Squamish Nation building on the Seymour Creek lands.
— image credit: Todd Coyne

A lot has been said lately about the Squamish Nation and its government’s land development plans.

But amid all the talk about condo towers beside the Burrard Bridge and new high-rises at Park Royal, one project coming quietly down the pipe may well trump them all.

It concerns 30 acres of land on the Squamish Nation’s Seymour Creek reserve near the Second Narrows Bridge, bracketed by Mt. Seymour Parkway, Dollarton Highway and Seymour Creek.

Currently home to the Real Canadian Superstore, Seymour Creek Golf Centre, an automotive yard and the Squamish administrative offices, the reserve may soon house a massive mixed commercial-residential development unlike anything the North Shore has seen.

While design studies and consultations with band membership are expected to ramp up in 2013, the new $65-million Seymour Creek Village centre could break ground as early as next year, according to Squamish Nation Chief Ian Campbell.

“We’re looking for the highest and best use of the land,” Campbell told The Outlook last week, noting the band has had unsolicited expressions of interest from several big-box retailers like Home Depot, Future Shop and Winners.

The most recent plan calls for a 430,000-square-foot “destination” shopping centre comprised of a mix of large-format retailers with smaller shops, services and restaurants spread throughout.

The mall would also feature a Squamish Nation cultural centre and craft store showcasing the band’s heritage and art, and could be home to a new Nation headquarters, if the old administrative building isn’t incorporated into the new village plan.

The Nation is also considering moving its offices to the 100 Park Royal tower on the Capilano Reserve in West Vancouver.

For the time being, the Seymour Creek plans remain just that — plans — but the Nation’s development partner, Emerson Real Estate Group, is eager to move on them — perhaps even before next year.

“We are hopeful that this is the year we’ll get a shovel in the ground,” Emerson president Ron Emerson told The Outlook last month. Of course, he conceded, nothing will go ahead until the band leadership say so.

Together with fellow developer Progressive Properties, Emerson’s company would retain one-quarter of the project lands on a 99-year sub lease, Progressive would retain one-quarter and the band would control the other half. A provision in the partners’ agreement allows the Squamish to buy out the developers in the future if it so chooses, while restricting its partners from buying more than their combined 50-per-cent ownership.

The Nation first sought proposals for the village project back in 1999, though its plans for the economic rejuvenation of the reserve date back more than a half-century to a 1962 band council decision to exploit the Seymour lands to the utmost benefit to the Nation.

Further discussion among subsequent band councils has recommended the Nation move beyond the role of simply collecting rent from reserve tenants, towards becoming owners of their own economic enterprises.

The Squamish Nation estimates the Seymour Village project will bring a hundredfold increase in revenue from the Seymour lands. In real terms, where the band today receives roughly $100 a day from its current tenants, the Nation estimates it will pull in $10,000 per day with the Seymour Creek Village development.

There will be benefits too for those band members wishing to run a business in the village, such as discounted rental rates and tax breaks on retail space.

Yet to be decided is whether the new village will include residential units or not. There are many factors that will affect that decision, Chief Campbell said, such as whether the housing market continues to soften and whether BC Hydro’s Walters Substation on the reserve lands can be relocated.

For its part, the District of North Vancouver has encouraged the Squamish Nation to embrace residential development as part of the overall village plan, according to Brian Bydwell, the district’s general manager of planning, properties and permits.

“We’ve always encouraged them to look at a mixed-use residential and commercial,” Bydwell told The Outlook, comparing the project to the district’s adjacent Lower Lynn Town Centre development.

“We’ve always understood that their commercial was going to be more regional oriented [given] its connection to the highway, whereas our commercial in Lower Lynn would be more neighbourhood-specific to that community,” he said.

District Mayor Richard Walton, who also chairs the TransLink mayors’ council, told The Outlook he thinks the Seymour village development would do well to position itself as a regional transit hub, perhaps taking a relocated Phibbs Exchange as the village’s centrepiece.

“The exact geographical centre of North Vancouver district is Seymour Creek — is that site,” Walton said. “But the challenge, of course, is that when TransLink goes ahead and does its regional plans — as it’s doing right now and is virtually finished the North Shore plan — they can only plan based on what they know.”

So, without finalized plans for the village, a transit hub remains one of the many question marks still lingering around Seymour Creek, questions Chief Campbell hopes will be answered this year.

“We have a million files on the go and only have so much manpower, so much resources,” he said. “So we now have to look at our priorities and what’s going to yield the highest and best use before we bring that forward now to the membership.”

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