Marine Drive corridor shifts gears from industrial to urban destination

Mixed-use residential-retail developers follow string of big-box openings to turn South Vancouver into city’s next hot area
PCI Group’s Marine Gateway will have 415 units of residential, 230,000 square feet of retail space and a 250,000-square-foot office complex

The Marine Drive-Cambie Street area is becoming the epicentre of a development boom that’s poised to transform industrial South Vancouver into a mixed-use urban corridor.

With fast-paced sales earlier this year for units in the residential towers planned by PCI Group and Intracorp and strong interest in retail space in the same projects, prospects are strong for the area surrounding the Marine Drive rapid transit station.

“It’s an area that we only see improving in terms of the transition of other sites along that corridor to redevelopment,” said Geoff Stollery, vice-president, real estate, with Best Buy Canada, which opened a new 30,000-square-foot store at 26 Southwest Marine Drive in November.

The store, part of a 220,000-square-foot complex that includes Canadian Tire and Mark’s Work Wearhouse, are the latest additions to a strip long home to a mix of large-format retailers and industrial users from forest companies to commercial printers.

“There’s nothing coherent about it,” Stollery admitted. “It is sort of piecemeal, but you can see there is some firm direction to densify around the transit stations.”

The 26 Southwest Marine Drive development, which was spearheaded by Canadian Tire Real Estate, is being followed by several mixed-use projects (see sidebar).

These developments are largely being driven by improved transit connections, which have made redevelopment a viable option.

Marketing materials for local projects quote impressive transit numbers: 53,000 vehicle trips a day along Marine Drive and 35,000 passengers through Marine Drive station.

“The biggest factor in our specific node is transit,” said Tim Grant, asset manager for PCI. “The number of people who are able to access it through transit is something you wouldn’t have associated with that area.”

Although the area has been underserved by retail in the past, thanks in part to a 2006 policy regulating large-format development in the area between Main and Yukon streets, transit has opened up the area, and developers have found land affordable.

“There’s desire from people to live, work, and shop within Vancouver,” Grant said, “and South Vancouver is the next area that could accommodate that.”

Conversations with brokers at Colliers International in Vancouver indicate that land values have increased significantly since the Marine Drive station opened in 2009 and development plans began moving forward. While uncertainties regarding the Community Amenity Contributions (CACs) the city charges when properties are rezoned have been a drag on deal volumes, the area’s availability of land for development has kept interest strong.

“The transit development and the residential development of Vancouver, period, is building the retail demand, and it’s gotta go somewhere,” said Scott Brown, senior vice-president, residential marketing and sales services with Colliers. “[Marine Drive] seems to be the most cost-effective place to develop it. Because if they did want to develop some of it on transit itself, there just seems to be less opportunity to do it [elsewhere].”

Best Buy, for example, which began discussing a South Vancouver location with Canadian Tire in 2004, had been scouting locations for nine years. Marine Drive was the best fit, because other transit-oriented locations came with too much uncertainty or simply weren’t available.

“We would have loved to have done something at Oakridge,” Stollery said. “The opportunity hasn’t presented itself, [and] we’re not sure if or when it would.”

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