Is it just me, or have you too noticed that life on the Pacific Coast is getting truly, truly surreal? I don't refer merely to the skyrocketing cost of living, but to all of the little things. The fixation on hand-held electronic gadgets, the mania to be a Facebook "friend", and the high school science teachers who prefer to screen BACK TO THE FUTURE in their classrooms, rather than bore their pupils with the Periodic Table. In Burnaby high schools even the Chemistry teachers show Hollywood feature films.
Recently I decided on purchasing an investment condo, and suddenly I began to notice plenty which I used to put on ignore. An example is our shared race to adjust to a massive and significant demographic shift in our resident population. I welcome it, but there is no doubt it will be even more consequent than the many social changes we underwent during the "Countdown to Hong Kong 1997". Twenty years ago BCTV News used to impress us with images of quaint Chinese urban lifestyle. Remember those video clips of Beijing streets awash with hordes of commuters on bicycles? Remember those shots of pencil-thin Hong Kong apartment towers where whole families lived like rabbits in less than 500 square feet? Where are we today? The "people's cadres" running Vancouver City Hall are tenaciously tearing up the traffic grid and installing bicycle paths. Utopia demands its concessions. In "suburban" Burnaby in 2011, ALL new towers offer affordable "homes" of less than 500 square feet. Extraordinary! Come to think of it... we are rushing back to the future!
Last month I had the opportunity to interview Maurice Pez, who is SVP Development at INTRACORP. He is spearheading the development of Burnaby's second new skyscraper - METROPLACE. In my preliminary research I read the Municipal website and the newspaper archives. Only one paper had been covering the project. Wanda Chow of the BURNABY NEWSLEADER attended council meeting and provided a thumbnail history in her story filed on November 4: 46-storey highrise pitched next to Metrotown station Much of the tower site is currently operating as BURNABY STORE - ALL, renting storage lockers. Intracorp has "been in partnership" with the owner of the property for about six years. Big projects have a very long time-line.
Mr. Pez exuded confidence in his project, which has passed Second Reading and was eager to give a great deal of credit for its genesis to City of Burnaby staff. I wanted to know if he felt well received when he presented METROPLACE at a meeting of open council, but he had no impressions to offer. "We were asked not to present." Who then had "pitched" the proposal to the city and the television audience? Basil Lufkin - Burnaby Director of Planning, a man whom Intracorp meets with regularly. Pez was also very generous in his praise of the Planning Committee. They intend that Intracorp's 46-storey tower be the catalyst for a sweeping redevelopment of the entire Maywood neighborhood, south of Metrotown Skytrain station. "It's their vision...their committee has driven this... they told us - 'You have to hit this out of the park - or we won't bring it forward'." This will necessarily entail the demolition of a few older apartment blocks but Pez doesn't see this coming over the horizon for 5 to 6 years. METROPLACE Tower will front on Beresford, and Pez revealed that Intracorp is already working on a second, shorter tower which will also front on Beresford. It's too early to discuss that project, but I predict that if METROPLACE sells out in a day, emulating the success of Bosa's SOVEREIGN, there is no doubt METROPLACE'S little brother will be fast-tracked.
I asked Pez how they had come up with such a bland name as "Metroplace", and he assured me that it was the result of very careful deliberation. I was reminded of the name "Centrepoint", an earlier Intracorp project in Metrotown, of which I'll have more to say in PART TWO of this Blog article. The architect for METROPLACE tower is Busby Perkins + Will, which is no surprise, as they have been working for the City on planning Maywood's future and other transit-centric proposals. Mr. Pez, who is himself an architect, assured me that METROPLACE is going to turn heads when completed. Pez disdains the "cookie cutter" designs of Intracorp's rivals and wants to present designs which are fresh. [Mr. Pez explains what makes a great building on an Inttracorp video, here.] The municipality he says, has always been self conscious of Burnaby's lack of a pedestrian friendly "High Street" and they envision Beresford after a 2011-2014 growth spurt, as morphing into something akin to Vancouver's Robson Street where "ceremonial events" can be staged. I enjoyed our conversation.
This CGI rendering of MetroPlace Tower shows the building looming over the current Metrotown Skytrain Station. Beresford Street and the station will each be getting a total rebuild. [Image courtesy of Intracorp]
The METROPLACE Tower site is currently hosting the Burnaby Store-All, located at 6541 Telford Avenue (not "Street" as I mis-labeled this photo). In the background squats the Metrotown Skytrain Station. That much criticized station is a pedestrian bottleneck, and also a constant magnet for the drug trade and assorted petty crime. The train station and the adjacent bus loop will be completely rebuilt, in concert with the construction of METROPLACE Tower. Buses will get curbside access on the south side of the station. [Image via Google Street View]
. "M" for Metroplace Tower - in 2007 a much less ambitious tower was proposed for the corner site. The current commercial building at 6541 Telford will be demolished in mid-2011. METROPLACE Tower will front on Beresford Street (address not yet assigned) and some of the townhouses at its base will get numbers on Telford Avenue. "S" in the upper right corner of the photo is the site of Metrotown's other great landmark - SOVEREIGN Tower, soon to rise at 4509 Kingsway.