By: Evan Saunders
April 21, 2023
With shovels in the ground, a new purpose-built rental tower in Uptown New Westminster will be the first substantial housing development in the area in more than 10 years.
“Like any development, it takes a level of patience but it’s been a very positive experience,” said Steve Forrest, chief operating officer with project developer PC Urban Properties Corp.
PC Urban is building a 29-storey concrete tower with 338 purpose-built rental homes at 616-640 Sixth Street in New Westminster, BC.
The project will feature more than 10,000 square feet of street level commercial space. Construction kicked off on April 18.
The neighbourhood is in need of new rental space.
In the past 10 years, the New Westminster’s Uptown has seen less than 100 rental units added. PC’s new tower will add nearly four times as many new homes in the neighbourhood in two years than were seen in a decade.
“For Greater Vancouver, New West is kind of a hub, all the transportation foes through there, if you’re heading south of the Fraser River,” Forrest said. “So, it’s amazing that they just did not have rentals being constructed.”
The area has less than a one per cent vacancy rate.
“I think it was just a little bit overlooked. We were able to come in at an opportune time,” he said.
Forrest said PC got a lot of support from city council and many councillors noted the area was in need of new rentals.
“New Westminster, because they’ve got such an issue like so many other places with available rental units, they really stepped up and helped us expedite the approval process. They are certainly one of the leaders when it comes to jurisdictions to really welcome a developer to come and build rental units in their communities,” he said.
“It’s been a very positive experience overall working with the City of New Westminster’s staff and council and the committee in general.”
Forrest said PC got involved some two years ago after taking over from a previous developer. Like most new developments in smaller cities, there was some work to be done ensuring the project aligned with community values.
“There were residents wondering how this was going impact them, as far as traffic in particular, rime, more densification. But I think New Westminster saw beyond that. The business improvement association was very supportive. We’re about change for a whole community.”
Unprompted by the city or province, PC decided to incorporate extra affordable housing and reserved commercial space for local charity in the building to demonstrate area residents that they wanted to bring positive development to the city.
“Our partner said, ‘Why don’t we do something that would be for the community in perpetuity and that would be really forward thinking?” Forrest said about the 500-square-foot space reserved for a charity.
But perhaps PC’s best demonstration that they wanted to be a positive developer in the neighbourhood came in its reaction to local backlash about the closure of the Waffle House Restaurant, a local staple since the 1950’s, that had to close it’s doors so the property could be developed.
“It was amazing what we went through. People were worried about what’s happening to the Waffle House,” Forrest said.
As a result, PC offered the Waffle House a right of first refusal to reopen their location in the commercial space on the ground floor of the building.
“You have to work with community. You have to work with your tenants and be transparent and just show people that we’re doing our best,” Forrest said.
As of right now, the Waffle House Restaurant has opened a new location in Surrey and has not announced a reopening in the PC building.
The building represents a $130 million investment and construction activities are underway.
“We’ve abated and demoed the building. We are under process right now with some piling works and some earthworks. We’re basically looking at about a 32 month schedule. So we’ll call it a middle of winter 2025 when we should be looking at bringing it into occupancy.
“With all the challenges we face, this has been one of the smoothest projects we’ve done.”