The Anvil Centre civic facility and the Merchant’s Square office complex rise above Columbia Street in Downtown New Westminster. The Anvil Centre is expected to open in the late spring of 2014. - NewsLeader file
The Anvil Centre civic facility and the Merchant’s Square office complex rise above Columbia Street in Downtown New Westminster. The Anvil Centre is expected to open in the late spring of 2014.
— image credit: NewsLeader file

Pedestrians tip-toed around it all year long while drivers patiently, and many impatiently, sat in their vehicles while they waited for the red STOP sign being carried by someone in florescent overalls and a hardhat to flip it around to the yellow ‘SLOW’ side.

Although it is far from being done, the end is in sight to the inconvenience Downtown New Westminster residents and visitors have endured during construction of the Anvil Centre civic facility and the Merchant Square office complex at Eighth and Columbia streets.

The Anvil Centre, complete with a medium-sized convention facility, 364-seat theatre, art gallery, museum and Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame is expected to be open in late spring of 2014. It’s anvil-shaped exterior has taken shape over 2013, but there’s still lots of interior work to be done.

New Westminster has hired two people to run the centre. Vali Martling will be the general manager and Heidi Hughes is charged with bringing business to the convention centre.

Hughes’ ability to attract events will be key to minimizing any sticker shock the city and its taxpayers might suffer from the Anvil Centre’s $41.5 million price tag. She’s going to be selling the centre as being tailor-made for small regional conferences because of its central location, proximity to rapid transit, reasonable parking rates, lower cost compared to Downtown Vancouver and beautiful setting near the Fraser River.

“We can create that memorable experience that can’t be found anywhere else on the Lower Mainland,” Hughes said during a recent tour of the centre.

Most of the Anvil Centre will be paid for with money the city received for having the Starlight Casino set up shop in Queensborough. But the city is currently on the hook for what could amount to another $51 million for the rest of the project.

The parking structure that goes with the building has a $12.5 million price tag, and the office complex, which rises another nine storeys above the Anvil Centre, is expected to cost $33 million. Essentially the city has been paying for Merchant Square by borrowing from the Municipal Finance Authority. The city has also budgeted borrowing another $7 million for tenant renovations if needed.

New Westminster was forced to go it alone in early 2012 after Uptown Property Group pulled out of a partnership it had been working on with the city for the project.

The decision to borrow in the belief if they build it buyers will come caused quite a controversy. That may have faded away in 2013 but it could be revived if the city can’t find a buyer for the office complex before it opens. Or, maybe more importantly, before the next municipal election scheduled for Nov. 15, 2014.

While no purchaser of Merchant Square has been announced, there is talk the city has found someone to take it off their hands.

The investor will need deep pockets to survive the early going because Merchant Square’s timing may not be as good as hoped.

The competition to attract tenants to first class office space is expected to be fierce when Merchant Square is completed because, for one, Metrotower III will be ready for occupancy about the same time. The Burnaby building will be 29 storeys with more than 400,000 sq. ft. while Merchant Square will offer just over 130,000 sq. ft.

The Anvil Centre will generate excitement in 2014. Sustaining that excitement for years to come will be key to its long-term success. So will creating excitement for the office complex in 2014, and that may be particularly crucial to city council come election time.

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