mills2In a not very surprising article in the Vancouver Sun, Chuck Chiang notes that Industry observers agree: The 1.2-million-sq.-ft. Tsawwassen Mills could be the last major shopping mall development in the Lower Mainland for the next decade, if not longer. Sky-high land prices throughout the region mean that low-density commercial developments such as malls are a difficult business case to make.

This reminds me of a conversation with a friend who was the vice-president of a major development company in Vancouver. That person was bringing 300 units to the market when the City of Vancouver was releasing all those units in Olympic Village. The verdict? The market was flooded with new units, and it would take time for demand to outpace supply. Will this mall have a similar impact on small businesses in Ladner and Tsawwassen, attracting those customers and lowering the independent stores’ profitability?

Developer Ivanhoe Cambridge has plucked a unique piece of Class 1 farmland on Tsawwassen First Nation Territory and put up 1.2 million square foot mall and a 6,000 car parking lot. Joni Mitchell would weep at this paving of paradise. But unlike other mall locations like Oakridge and Park Royal there is no high density housing associated with the project, and no large local population to draw from. With poor public transit and two bus stops plonked on Highway 17, you are not going to be attracting a lot of non car users, unlike McArthurGlen Mall located on the Canada Line on Vancouver Airport property.

In this case a private company has taken advantage of this location to build a 200 plus store mall on Highway 17. Even the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure appears excited, using highways leaderboards to indicate “Expect heavy traffic with Tsawwassen Mills Opening”. As the Vancouver Sun article states “It is suggested that shoppers are willing to drive 1.5 hours to a unique, outlet-based destination mall, and consumers often stay for up to three hours (compared to an hour at a typical mall).”

The new mall manager is quoted saying “In today’s economy, shoppers are really looking for value as part of the equation. So the fact that we have some of these brands … is a real draw for the consumers. We are trying to draw from the Interior, Vancouver Island, the whole Lower Mainland, and even parts of northern Washington State. Upward of 20 per cent of our expected traffic will be what we call the ‘tourism market’.”

The mega mall opens on October 5.  Another “more local” serving mall will be built to the east of the mega mall in the near future.