Uptown pulls out of Downtown civic centre project

The office space in the new civic centre, currently under construction, was to be built by Uptown Property Group. - IMAGE COURTESY CITY OF NEW WESTMINSTER
The office space in the new civic centre, currently under construction, was to be built by Uptown Property Group.

Grant Granger

New Westminster is scrambling to find a new partner for its civic centre after Uptown Property Group (UPG) pulled out of the office space portion of the project.

"It's not really a setback," said Mayor Wayne Wright of the development. "We still have time."

Wright said the city still wants the project to have an office tower. When it called for partnership proposals the city received several proposing a residential development. UPG's was the only with an office component.

But if no partners can be found willing to go in that direction then council has to consider whether it will partner with a residential developer, said Wright. "We always have that in our hip pocket."

However, he believes an office development partner can be found because it's so close to a SkyTrain station.

"It's a spectacular location," said Wright.

In the meantime, construction will continue.

"We're dealing with the civic centre first. We just want to make sure we have the right partner."

Wright figured the city has about a year to come up with a new partner because it will that long before construction will be ready to start work on that portion of the project. He said once a partner is found, it wouldn't take long to transition to the office tower because all the design plans are already in place.

UPG's Bart Slotman won't say why his group has decided against participating in the project.

"It's just not appropriate for us to comment any further. It's a business decision we made and I'm not interested in sharing on that," said Slotman. "It wasn't an easy decision for us to reach, but sometimes you have to make decisions."

Despite the decision, Slotman remains bullish on building office space in the city pointing out UPG, which owns Westminster Centre, will be breaking ground on its 5,000 square foot Queen's Park West project at Fifth Street and Sixth Avenue in May.

"New Westminster needs more quality office space. There is quite a bit of office space, a lot of it is in good shape and occupied. But there are a lot that are not in good shape that are vacant. Those skew the office space [statistics]," said Slotman. "If you look at the quality of that office space a lot of it is functionally obsolete. There is definitely demand for office space."

He added two groups have been lined up to occupy Queen's Park West, which will be four floors compared to the eight scheduled to be built over top of the civic centre.

Uptown's Downtown proposal included about 100,000 sq. ft. of office space to be built over the $35 million, 80,000 sq. ft. civic centre.

"We are continuing to work on seeking a partner for the project. We think it's a project with tremendous potential. We are speaking with other potential partners," said city administrator Paul Daminato. "We're quite optimistic about it, we think there's quite a bit of interest."

Although Uptown had been announced as a partner, it was a preliminary agreement since details on the dollars and management of the building were still being negotiated when Uptown changed its mind, said Daminato.

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