Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The Impact of Tsawwassen Mills

with 4 comments

The Delta Optimist story carries the headline “Proposed Tsawwassen First Nation malls to make area a ‘shopping destination'”. I first covered this development back in April last year. Since then the development of the port, the railway yards and the South Fraser Perimeter Road have all been proceeding apace. While the story notes that a decision is to be made by the TFN next week, I have little doubt that it will get approved.

While the Optimist does mention concerns about traffic being the biggest impact, there is also reference to the impact on local retailers: that concern seems to get dismissed rather too lightly

“Responding to concerns about the impact the two major malls would have on South Delta retailers, the TFN notes market research has shown developments of this size and format attract new shoppers to an area as the community becomes a shopping destination.”

What that actually means is that not only will South Delta retailers notice a loss of trade, so will a much larger area. And since this development is on the coast and just north of an international border, all that draw has to be on a much more narrowly focussed hinterland. Not 360 degrees of attraction more like 90 – nearly all those now shoppers will be coming from the north and east. I doubt many people will put their car on the ferry just to go shopping – but I could be wrong about that.

At one time I used spend my days doing shopping impact analysis for the then Greater London Council: we were concerned, back in the 1970s about the impact on our town centres. It turned out of course that we were absolutely right. Town centre vitality certainly was sapped when retail trade left for the edge of the built up area – and there are now studies under way to see what, if anything can be done about that. Closer to home, the decline of retail spending in the United States, mainly due to the credit crunch and higher than the stats show unemployment, has lead to widespread store closures and many malls looking for a new purpose. While things are not quite so tough here (yet) and we still confidently expect more people to move here, and disposable incomes to remain high there are those who are already predicting a similar “correction” to house prices here – including the IMF.

In the short term, given that real incomes have not been increasing for the last twenty years, and that despite the appearance of tax reductions, for those on average to low incomes that is more than offset by the increases in fees and charges of all kinds (things like MSP, EI and CPP and so on) the amount of disposable income – what people can spend when they go shopping – is pretty much fixed. So if you introduce a whole bunch of new retail stores into an area, that means that existing spending shifts from place to place. For instance, when the Ironwood and Coppersmith shopping plazas opened on  Steveston Highway in Richmond a few years ago, the nearest plaza on Williams Road promptly closed and has since been redeveloped as housing. Moreover, the Lower Mainland is a short drive from the US border, and thus all kinds of shopping opportunities where prices – and sales tax – are generally lower, even when the Canadian dollar is weak against the US dollar. Again, it seems to me unlikely that stores in the new “Mills” here will be dragging much business away from the outlet malls along I5.

Of course, there is no authority here that has the power to protect existing town centres. Nor, as far as I know, does anyone other than the retailers themselves have this as a concern. While there once was a regional strategy around Town Centres, I am not even sure that survived in the current regional plan – not that that has any teeth anyway.

The combination of the SFPR and a major new out of town retail centre seems ideal to keep Delta and Richmond – and probably parts of Surrey given how far the 20 minute isochrone stretches with the new road – car dependent for a very long time. And will ensure that Ladner and Tsawwassen town centres will decline as multi-purpose places and social centres.    I am also fairly confident that will be obvious in a much shorter time frame than 40 years.



Written by Stephen Rees

January 13, 2012 at 10:21 am

4 Responses

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  1. I’m not surprised that the Tsawwassen first nation is seeking to develop its land and bring greater wealth to its people. What surprises me is how much moral support they’re getting from the non-native residents of the area who I thought liked their quiet little bedroom suburb on the peninsula. I thought there would be outrage at the building of mega malls on the edge of their community like there would be if someone in the British Properties tore down his mansion and replaced it with a WalMart.


    January 13, 2012 at 11:02 am

  2. I agree with your 90° of drawing power, Stephen. It is very difficult to think that we will be pulling US shoppers into Tsawwassen. The flow is shopping south, not the other way around. Americans by constitution are not keen to leave their turf. And, I wonder if the prices at a Tsawwassen outlet mall will compete with either Seattle or Woodburn south of Portland. In Oregon, they have that 12% advantage (no sales tax), and depending on how much of the outlet concept is based on volume sales, we won’t generate the same volumes here.

    Avoiding border line-ups and border hassles for Canadians will be the real competitive advantage. But the booze is 300% more expensive here.

    Those questions about what will happen to the malls, and what happened in the 1970’s to the downtowns when the malls were built, are being answered everyday. The malls are going to re-develop with towers, sometimes with transit hubs, and will continue to expand in size beyond the point of being walkable.

    “15 mins to walk to the Dysney store, Ma’am” my partner was told at Metrotown. I asked her jokingly whether she was shopping in the next town, or quartier.

    The downtowns are more interesting because they could fit a TOD model for suburban intensification. Build hi-density, low-rise within walking distance of downtown, and spend a little infrastructure money to make the walk pleasant. However, the traffic counts on those (now) arterial streets make some of the old downtowns dangerous to life, limb, and pulmonary health. Living a block away doesn’t really dilute the pollution a whole lot (16x the distance gets 0.25 of the contaminants—it’s an inverse-sqaure relationship).

    That’s where we bump into the Leviathan. For, in both of these cases, and at TFN, what we are really facing is an automobile destination in an automobile culture. As in the new malls in south surrey on the last couple of exists on the HWY 99—it is all car; no walking, even if in the case of “Granville Corners” it is designed to look walkable.

    So, unless they are going to hard-wire the Outlet Malls into transit—highly unlikely—this, and the questions you raise—would seem to remain tightly bound in the suburban urbanism.

    David hits the same note that has accompanied my hearing about the project. Too bad TFN is not going about it in a way that reflects, or meshes more closely, with a sustainable urbanism.

    IMF? BoM announced 2.99% 5-year mortgages today. CBC reported it as adding fuel to an already over-heating housing market. Hard to disagree there.

    lewis n. villegas

    January 13, 2012 at 6:23 pm

  3. I think that should read “Grandview Corners”.

    If the TFN malls spur the demise of retail in downtown Tsawwassen, could that also spur its redevelopment with housing and smaller scale local service retail (in much the same way that condo towers near Brentwood or other regional malls have ground floor retail, and ground floor retail at downtown condos survive despite close proximity to Pacific Centre or other large retail)?
    In theory, there could be a differentiation in markets between stores and services at the mall and those closer to home (condos).
    Naturally, that may entail a proliferation of coffee shops, newstands, restaurants and hair salons, but that may not be that bad if it still provides services that residents need.

    Ron C

    January 16, 2012 at 6:10 pm

  4. It sounds like the mall developers on the TFN lands are gambling on taking a share of business away from other retail outlets. That could backfire and cause poor sales as the consumer population base is stretched out and people are unwilling to drive from North Surrey of Vancouver.

    The TFN may seek to increase their revenue from the Roberts bank industrial side of the ledger.

    The majority of us are appalled at the auto dependent nature of this development whose base model was conceptualized over a half century ago. With today’s aging Boomers and the decreasing disposable income Stephen reiterated, we can see that higher prices in fossil fuels will put many of these developments in a bad place when families and youth inevitably economize … or smarten up.


    January 17, 2012 at 4:02 pm

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