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Whalley renaissance moves forward

Surrey's emerging downtown core continues to shine, thanks in part to the latest announcement of a 50-storey hotel and residential development to be located next to the new city hall and flagship library.

Hundreds of people gathered at the City Centre Library Thursday for the unveiling of what will be the tallest building south of the Fraser – 3 Civic Plaza.

The bottom floor will house the restaurant for the Civic Hotel, while the 13 floors above will have 160 suites for hotel guests. The next 34 storeys will be 330 residential units.

The development will also include office space.

The $125-milliion project is being built at Surrey Civic Plaza, near 103 Avenue and University Drive – the location of the new City Centre Library, relocated city hall, and future mixed-use performing arts centre building.

Construction of 3 Civic Plaza will begin in 2013 and the completion date is expected by the fall of 2015.

"Fifty-five years of doing business (and) this is the most exciting project I've ever done," said Sean Hodgins, president of Century Group, which is partnering with Surrey City Development Corporation (SCDC) on the project, along with Patrick Cotter Architects, which designed the building.

"I'm particularly excited that it's here in the City of Surrey," Hodgins told the group. "I think it's really the most exciting place in Canada in terms of city building."

Mayor Dianne Watts said the hotel and residences will be a good fit for City Centre.

"Surrey is very unique, we're unique in the way we approach things, we're innovative, we're open," Watts said. "We want to make sure that uniqueness is represented in the building of our City Centre."

SCDC President and CEO Jim Cox began discussions with Hodgins just over a year ago.

The city wanted a hotel in the area, Cox said, but noted Surrey was open to any project that would "animate" the future plaza.

This project, he said, accomplishes that goal.

SCDC was created by Surrey four years ago with the donation of city land and some start-up cash.

The corporation now works to help build projects for the betterment of Surrey, including this latest one, in which SCDC has $6 million in land invested as well as $7 million in cash.

Cox said the corporation will be holding on to an interest in the hotel and office space for a percentage of the lease revenues.

Building a vibrant downtown core has been a priority for Surrey for quite some time.

About 15 years ago, senior management at city hall considered the notion of reducing development cost charges in Whalley, along with other initiatives, to spark investment in the area. That plan failed to come to fruition (However, the idea was implemented by in 2009 by Watts).

In the late 1990s, ICBC built the Bing Thom-designed Central City tower, a 25-storey highrise which eventually became home to the Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University.

While that was considered to be an impetus for further investment, development was fairly slow to come, and when it did, it was mostly in the form of residential towers.

Watts said it was important for the public sector to put its money into the area to build investor confidence.

Surrey helped fund the new library and will invest in the new city hall.

Other developments already completed or  in the works include the RCMP E-Division headquarters ($1 billion) in Green Timbers Urban Forest; the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre ($300 million); SFU's 54,000-sq-ft. expansion Podium 2 ($10 million); the Critical Care Tower and ER expansion at Surrey Memorial Hospital ($500 million); and the new school district centre ($50 million).

To date in City Centre, there has been $1.1 billion worth of private sector development projects and $1.16 billion in public sector development.

@diakiw

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