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Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts make heavy bet on new downtown — but it won’t come instantly

February 24th, 2014 · 35 Comments

Surrey’s efforts to remake itself as an urban place, rather than just a bedroom suburb, are exciting and have generated a lot of media coverage.

What that coverage (some of it mine) doesn’t always convey is the reality of what a big job this is. Surrey doesn’t even have a vestigial version of a downtown at the Surrey Central SkyTrain station that it’s trying to fashion into its urban core. There was really almost nothing there that resembled a normal downtown when the mayor started in 2005 to talk about creating a downtown. There was a tower built on top of a mall, a lot of big-box parking lots, even more low-end fast-food joints, some fields, and, off in the distance, a few older houses and apartment buildings.

This is not a question of revitalizing or adding to an existing downtown. It’s really creating one out of whole cloth.

In my story for the Globe on the opening of the city’s new $97-million city hall, I addressed some of the real challenges Surrey has.  It’s in competition with other suburbs and with downtown Vancouver for the offices that need to be in any downtown. The retail part isn’t really there yet. Mostly there is a huge investment by the city (close to $200 million) and a lot of condo projects in the works.

That’s not to say that this won’t happen. But it’s going to take a really sustained, focused effort.

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