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COLUMN: Centred on Whalley
Surrey’s new city hall, to be built in Whalley, may prove to be the key catalyst in permanently changing the area’s reputation and vibe.
There have been many steps taken in the past 20 years towards transforming Whalley into Surrey City Centre, as it has been optimistically labelled by many politicians. The first concrete step was the extension of the SkyTrain line into Whalley, with the Gateway station specifically tied to a new high-rise development on 108 Avenue.
The next step was the redevelopment of Surrey Place Mall into Central City, with the signature high-rise building housing what was then the Technical University of B.C., and is now a very vibrant Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University.
The presence of the university in the area has changed it in many ways. There are many more people on the streets during the day. The transit system is significantly busier. Many businesses derive part of their income from the increased number of people in the area.
This was followed by construction of highrises at 100 Avenue and King George Boulevard. This construction has brought more new residents to the area, as has the Quattro development near 108 Avenue and King George.
The city’s most significant statement in the area thus far was the redevelopment of Holland Park from a grassy treed area to a central gathering place. This was put to great use during the Winter Olympics.
The city is also financing the construction of a new Whalley Library, and now has broken ground for a new city hall and 5,000-person civic plaza at 104 Avenue and University Boulevard.
If there are city hall employees, people doing business with city hall and (hopefully) new businesses located in the surrounding area, this will make the 104 and University vicinity a much more vibrant place. This in turn will cast a broader influence over much of the Whalley area, and spur redevelopment, which is key to the future of the City Centre area.
Surrey politicians have talked for years about Surrey City Centre, but their actions have been lacking. There was minimal city investment in the area. This is now changing for the better.
Private landowners need to follow suit. They have sat on their properties for many years, perhaps doubting whether the city was ever going to follow through on its talk. While they have appreciated the value of the SkyTrain line, many haven’t seen it as being any particular benefit to their properties.
A few private properties have undergone some significant development, notably in some areas near Gateway. Some new buildings have been erected on King George, not far from some of the original Whalley’s Corner buildings that were built shortly after the Second World War.
There is still much room for improvement and the city needs to give some more thought as to how to minimize the effect of car traffic on King George to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.
With continued vision and leadership from the city, Whalley will become Surrey City Centre in fact as well as name.
Frank Bucholz is editor of The Langley Times. He writes weekly for The Leader.