'Gastown-type potential' for Downtown New West: Fung

Artist rendering of the Salient Group
Artist rendering of the Salient Group's proposal for the Trapp and Holbrook blocks in Downtown New Westminster
— image credit: Salient Group

The revitalization of Downtown New Westminster has the potential to be as vibrant as Vancouver’s Gastown has become.
That’s the opinion of developer Robert Fung, president and founder of the Salient Group. His company specializes in rejuvenating historic buildings for residences, or constructing them in a style befitting the historical architecture of the area. Salient’s offices are in Gastown where many of its projects are, but the company is venturing into New Westminster with a project to rebuild the Trapp and Holbrook blocks in the 600-block of Columbia Street. The Trapp Block was built in 1899 but has been vacant since the Army and Navy moved down the street in 1977.
“Some of the experiences in Gastown and New Westminster are directly analogous,” said Fung, who spoke about the differences and similarities in a talk to Next New West Thursday evening. “It’s a very exciting time in the evolution of New Westminster.”
He said Gastown is as strong as it has ever been in the last 30 years. It was revitalized in the 1970s, but mostly as a tourist area. Since then, however, it has become sustainable because it has also incorporated residential and commercial into the area. Fung sees something similar happening to Downtown New Westminster where density is being increased and projects such as the new civic centre and Westminster Pier Park are being built.
“A lot of older cities have historic downtowns and in almost every single case the city grows away from the downtown,” said Fung. “The money leaves that area, and then at some point the city realizes it needs to grow back into it, and people look at the history and the architecture of that place, and looking at incorporating it into the area.”
Fung said marketing of the Trapp and Holbrook buildings, which Salient purchased in 2005, will begin this spring. The economic downturn and structural issues with the buildings delayed the projects. Salient eventually determined unstable ground means only the facades of the buildings will be retained. The new buildings, which Fung said will house 196 units ranging from 500 to 1,200 square feet, will be constructed in a historic style.
“There’s a tremendous amount of focus on Columbia Street to make sure the character and texture of the street are maintained, and the historic components of the building are maintained. In the time that has passed [since 2005] New Westminster has done a tremendous job on focusing on the Downtown. It’s already gone through a resurgence. It’s not like we’re going to be leading that.”
Fung hopes construction will begin in late summer or fall with occupancy by 2014.

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