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Mall projects moving forward

TFN to expand footprint to 180 acres as feasibility studies find development companies require more land

The major retail malls planned for the Tsawwassen First Nation would truly be a destination offering something unique, according to developers behind the project.

In an interview with the Optimist Wednesday at the TFN Economic Development Corporation's office, the corporation's CEO Chris Hartman and TFN CAO Doug Raines provided an update on the huge retail development that is gradually moving closer to reality.

Also on hand via phone were John Scott, vice president of new development at Ivanhoe Cambridge, and Lawrence Rank, one of the founding partners of the Property Development Group.

The economic development corporation announced this spring it had entered into a memorandum of agreement with the development companies that would result in 1.8 million square feet of shopping, office and entertainment space built near Highway 17 and 52nd Street.

Ivanhoe Cambridge's project would comprise 1.2 million square feet as a destination retail and entertainment centre. Named Tsawwassen Mills, it would follow the model of CrossIron Mills, north of Calgary, which opened in 2010, and Vaughan Mills, north of Toronto, which opened in 2004.

CrossIron Mills has over 200 stores, including Winners, H&M and Sport Chek, as well as movie theatres and restaurants. Vaughan Mills has many of the same stores and eateries.

Property Development Group is proposing to develop an outdoor retail space called Tsawwassen Commons. The company has been involved in a number of mall developments in Canada, the U.S. and overseas. According to the firm's website, some of its projects in the Lower Mainland include City Square in Vancouver, Eaton Centre at Metrotown and Station Square in Burnaby.

The TFN membership earlier this year voted in favour of the proposed partnerships, but at the time those deals were based on 100 acres being developed on 49year leases.

Agreements were subsequently reached with Ivanhoe Cambridge and the Property Development Group to develop up to 180 acres. The leases with the First Nation would run 99 years.

Hartman noted following a "due diligence exercise" looking at the feasibility of the projects, the deals were changed to offer more land on a longer lease. That means the membership will have to vote again, this one set for Jan. 18, 2012.

"Even if the member approval is positive, there's still some additional approvals that need to be secured. For example, there's the typical municipal-type approvals - subdivisions, rezoning, development permits. So we still have a number of steps to go through," said Hartman.

"But this is an important milestone in the entire process and why we're advising people where we're at, but there's still work to do and the member vote is the next critical component."

Tsawwassen Mills would have approximately 17 "major retailers" and over 175 "smaller retail shops, a food court and retail kiosks," according to an information package provided by the TFN. The enclosed mall would be designed "around B.C. themes, including a distinct Coast Salish component."

While several bigbox retailers have been rumoured as part of the plans, Scott said negotiations are continuing and it's premature to make any announcements. He did say interest from retailers has been extremely high.

"The project that we are proposing, the (Tsawwassen) Mills project, is very similar in size and scope to CrossIron Mills, just north of Calgary," he explained.

"Typically our Mills centres, we refer to it as a hybrid centre, is very different than a traditional retail shopping centre. It's really a hybrid of anchor tenants that are non-traditional.

You won't find a fullline department store, for instance, as an anchor tenant. It has a high proportion of the retail being outlet, or value priced. Again, very different, but it won't be all outlet. It will be a mix of regular retail and outlet retail with an entertainment component, including restaurants."

Scott described the shopping centre as both "destination" and "unique" to the market.

Tsawwassen Commons, meanwhile, would have 550,000 square feet of retail space. It would "include three major retail operators, and about eight mediumsized retail stores and approximately 12 smallersized locations suitable for restaurants, financial services and smaller boutique stores."

Rank said the Commons project would feature "a lot of home improvements, sporting goods, restaurants, more service-related tenancies."

Should TFN members approve, detailed designs would begin immediately with site preparation to commence next summer. Both malls are targeting a summer/fall 2015 grand opening.

The TFN notes the projects will generate additional traffic and that's a key component of feasibility studies now underway.

Advertisements for interested retailers extol the TFN's proximity to the ferry terminal as well as the income levels of the adjacent population in South Delta.

The information package notes the First Nation is aware there is some concern about the impact the malls would have on local retailers, but market research "has demonstrated that developments of this size and format attract new shoppers to an area, increasing local visitation as the community becomes a new shopping destination."

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