Will the Quay deliver on its promise?
If you rebuild it will they come?
Although it’s not movie material, there are a lot of people pulling for that happy ending to come true for the property formerly known as the Westminster Quay Public Market.
Since it opened more than 25 years ago, the Quay has had its days in the sun where people flocked to it from all over the Lower Mainland. They would meander along the boardwalk before ending up sitting on the patio sipping cappuccino or licking gelato or picking out fruits and vegetables.
Slowly but surely, though, the market and the area began to lose its mojo. It looked tired, says one observer. There is all sorts of speculation as to why it became a ghost of its former self. Maybe it was bad karma from the leaky condo crisis. It could have been the deterioration of the building. Some say it’s too difficult to get to.
Plenty of potential
The one thing most will agree on is the area oozes potential. The pretty setting alongside the working water arterial highway known as the Fraser River seems a natural to compete with the likes of North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay, Richmond’s Steveston Pier or Granville Island.
Three years ago, the dying market was purchased by a group headed by Mark Shieh. Using the same architects that created Granville Island, they spent $5 million to rip the guts out, put on a new roof and install new mechanical, electrical and plumbing. Basically all that remains of the old building inside are the escalators to the second floor.
Shieh’s group has secured some new tenants and say they’ll be announcing a new one every two weeks starting in April. There is some activity there now, but it should be bustling by May, says Julie Ramirez, River Market spokesperson.
Hopeful statements of anticipated openings are a familiar refrain to James Crosty, president of the Quayside Residents Association who has lived in the area for 20 years.
“We’ve heard it over and over,” says Crosty. “There’s a tipping point where people are anxious and excited to where they’re disappointed and it starts to go the other way. I’m sure management is conscious of that.”
Crosty predicts that tipping point is not much more than a year away, maybe even this summer.
“We understand it can’t happen too soon for them, and we’re doing our best to get it open as soon as we can,” says Ramirez. “We feel the same way. We feel once they see it they’ll realize why it took the time that it did.
“It’s a project from people that are not faint of heart, but it’s an office full of people that are optimistic about it.”
There is a method to their positivity. The market is billing the experience as Food 360 because the lower level will be where everyday foodies will want to come, says Ramirez. The section that connects to the riverfront will have restaurants and food for eating at the market. The west wing will sell stuff that can be taken home such as meat, fish, flowers and liquor. At the other end is Donald’s Market which has been open for several months.
Up the escalators on the top floor there’s a variety of stuff with tenants such as Pedagogy Toys, arts displays and the Vancouver Circus School which will provide a steady source of entertainment for market goers.
Close link to city
“We make this analogy that between Vancouver and New Westminster is what Brooklyn is to New York. So we can see it as a close connection to the city but an opportunity to do something a little bit grittier and experimental,” says Ramirez.
“It has been a challenging project, but once you spend this amount of time and money it’s not just about filling it with any tenants. We need the right tenants to make this vision come to light. Tenants that are unique and provide a mix you would find in a public market or find close to the waterfront.”
The market plans to have lots of events and programs to draw people to the Quay with such things as festivals, seniors programming and craft markets.
“That’s how you set a public market apart from any other shopping experience,” says Ramirez.
That’s a good approach if the market hopes to succeed, according Gail Tibbo, head of the Douglas College marketing department.
“When people come there for the first time they have to be wowed. It matters that they create a flow to keep them coming back,” says Tibbo. “It’s the repeat customers—that’s what’s really going to make it for them.”
Tibbo is a big fan of Granville Island and the Quay has always intrigued her. She’s even had some students do research projects on it.
“It shouldn’t have had to compete with Granville Island and the Lonsdale Quay because locationally it’s quite different. I don’t think it made enough of a distinction [in the past],” she says.
“There wasn’t a vibrant, lively feel to it, there wasn’t the ambience you want to complement it. It should be a gem in terms of being on the river.”
It’s not a gem without its flaws, though. Tibbo’s departmental colleague at Douglas, David Moulton, says a big obstacle is getting customers to cross the railway tracks.
“The separation to the rest of New Westminster and the waterfront and the Quay is a problem,” says Moulton. “It is inconvenient as hell to access the waterfront.”
To solve that problem, some have talked about “encapsulation,” a vision that would connect the Quay to Columbia by a covering over the railway tracks and Front Street.
“It may be a pipe dream, but I think it’s achievable, and personally I think it’s necessary to get people across,” says Moulton.
From a marketing perspective the city has great potential, says Moulton, who is also on the city’s economic development advisory committee. “It might not come as soon as people like, but I think the rejuvenation of the Downtown and the waterfront is going to happen.”
Downtown rejuvenation should help
Access aside, however, Moulton feels there’s plenty of potential for the Quay with the rejuvenation of the Downtown and the new civic centre drawing plenty of foot traffic to the Quay. He also believes Mark Shieh’s experience working as an “imagineer” with Disney Corporation will help to attract people there.
He’d also like to see a small ship facility, while Crosty suggests the tugboats in front of the market should be moved downriver and replaced with a marina where boat owners can dock and shop.
The one constant through the good times and bad has been the Paddlewheeler Pub. Although traffic has been down the last few years it has plugged away.
“In the summer it maintains good business, in the winter it’s a struggle,” says pub manager Rhoena Teutlinger.
“I know it used to have lineups at the door. Now we’re hoping to fill the seats.”
She has been noticing, however, about a 15 to 20 per cent jump in revenue as more businesses open in the market. The Paddlewheeler also plans to open a liquor store adjacent to the pub in the next two months.
Karen Smecher is a believer.
They rebuilt it and she was one of the first to come. The owner of Pedagogy Toys moved her shop from Sapperton to the River Market a month ago. Already her store has had a good turnout of customers, she says.
“I’m excited about the potential and the vision. This place is going to be a special place.”
There are a lot of people hoping she’s right.
Shortly after deadline, the NewsLeader received this update from Julie Ramirez at the River Market about upcoming tenants:
River Market has some exciting information to share!!
THIS DELICIOUS SUMMER
This summer at River Market will be delicious! Since our Phase 1 opening, you’ve suggested many awesome ideas for the kinds of shops you’d love to see at the Market. We hope you’re as excited as we are about the Phase 2 shops getting ready to open this summer:
· Crab Shop. Fresh seafood AND fish n’ chips. Owner Marcel Gregori catches local crab himself! His shop will also offer the freshest selection of wild seafood and shellfish. Plus his amazing fish n’ chips have loyal fans including Michael Buble.
· Gelato and Espresso Bar. The Gallo brothers of Yaletown Gelato craft their own gelato ice cream with fresh fruit and creative passion. They also make some seriously fine espresso and cappuccino!
· Bakery. Husband-and-wife team Alfonso Fernandez and Katia Mayo is creating a quality bakery abundant with breads, sweets, and homemade comfort foods inspired by Spanish flavours.
· Paddlewheeler Pub Liquor Store.
The tenants are now working on the design, permit, and construction process. Stay tuned for more details. Get ready for previews and pretastes on the River Market patio in the coming months!
Over the next few weeks celebrating the opening of many
· Donald’s Deli.
· Orlando’s Catering
· Crepe Des Amis
· Fraser River Bike Tour