Monumental change is coming to downtown Chilliwack.
City of Chilliwack has awarded the long-awaited redevelopment contract to Algra Brothers to transform 3.75 acres of prime land in downtown Chilliwack.
The site bounded by Young Road, Yale Road, Princess Avenue and Empress Lane, will see a combination of retail, commercial, residential and mixed-used development, in a multi-year, multi-phased development.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” said Dave Algra, of Algra Bros. Developments.
The “heart” of the new development will be a pedestrian street accessed by Yale Road or Five Corners.
“We are hoping to have our first tenants in by 2019, and the first part of our pedestrian street done,” said Algra.
The development permit application will be submitted “as soon as possible” and ground will be broken early next year.
Project renderings by architects Craven Huston Powers (CHP) show a visually pleasing, pedestrian friendly development with a respectful nod to Chilliwack’s storied past.
“At the beginning when we said it was going to be a bold vision, and we talked about how it would change, there were skeptics,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz, at the downtown announcement in the Chilliwack Business Centre at Five Corners.
“As a matter of fact, in my darkest moments, I wondered myself if we were going to be able to pull it off, but I am here today to tell you that we have.”
It’s taken “a whole lot of consultation, and whole lot of work” to get it this far, said Gaetz, and she thanked council, Chilliwack Economic Partners Corp., and more, including those who worked on the various downtown committee efforts.
The ideas that came out of the 2010 Chilliwack Downtown Land Use and Development Plan, the 2011 Downtown Core Task Force Final Report, and the 2040 Official Community Plan had a similar vision: a main street building design for downtown with development framing the street to support a vibrant and safe core with active retail, entertainment and civic functions.
“CEPCO is pleased to welcome the Algra Bros. as new partners in the ongoing redevelopment of our downtown core,” said Brian Coombes, CEPCO President. “Their innovative vision for downtown and commitment to quality is a welcome addition in such an important part of our community.”
CEPCO board chair Mark Omelaniec said they’ve worked closely with city officials for 10 years consolidating properties in the downtown.
“We are proud to have reached this important milestone in Chilliwack,” said Omelaniec. “We look forward to working with Algra Bros. as they create a vibrant, new neighbourhood in the downtown core.”
Mayor Gaetz became emotional describing the Herculean effort by so many in the last decade to bring the revitalization dream to fruition.
Among those who grew up in the area, the downtown is in their DNA, she said.
“We are confident that Algra Bros. will help us create an iconic contemporary neighbourhood that recaptures the past while creating a bold, new vision for the future.”
In fact, their work is expected to set the “benchmark” for subsequent downtown development.
The big question mark is how much of the existing building envelope can be maintained.
Some of the buildings will be refaced as they did in Abbotsford, but assessing them will come first.
“Right now we have to go in a take apart some of those buildings, and do structural assessments on them,” Algra said. “We want to keep as much as we can.”
He said if there are façade pieces that they can keep, and “that make sense to keep,” they will incorporate them into the new design, he pledged.
“We have decided to take down the Limited Edition building, which is what we call it, where we are going to make that second pedestrian lane connection.”
“We are hoping to retain everything else,” said Algra.
Dave Algra, with brothers Peter and Phil, started out framing houses in the Fraser Valley before becoming general contractors, where they started developing spec houses and developing empty land. They learned some vital lessons from their years building in Garrison Crossing about incorporating historical elements, retaining the trees on the site, and what that did for the residents,” he said.
Then they moved onto Downtown Abbotsford, and successfully incorporated historic elements there, too.
“It adds a richness to the experience,” Algra said.
So coming back to Chilliwack to accomplish something similar downtown was a “natural progression” for them.
“We really strongly believe the future of retail/commercial is a walkable, experience-based type of development that will be successful long term,” said Algra.
The pedestrian street will be a protected core within the development, featuring a mix of businesses, cafés, shops and residences.
Chilliwack’s downtown is perfect to “adapt to the human experience,” as opposed to one geared to vehicles, given the mass and scale of the buildings, the street widths and sidewalks.
“Your downtown is the best example of a city form that is scaled to the human experience,” Algra noted. “Elsewhere it’s scaled to that of a car.”
Algra said the Algra team did a lot of homework prior to responding to the RFP and they noticed a stark contrast between how Abbotsford and Chilliwack residents talked about and felt about their respective downtowns.
“In Chilliwack they would talk about how great their downtown used to be,” said Algra, and that nostalgic desire and passion for the downtown will help. “And they want it back.”
“We know it’s going to happen. Everything is there.”