A luxury outlet shopping centre proposed for Vancouver International Airport is running into opposition from municipal politicians. Leading the charge is Mayor Malcolm Brodie of the City of Richmond, which is to the east and south of the Sea Island site of the proposed centre.
Mayor Brodie said last week that the centre isn’t compatible with his city’s official community plan or with the regional growth strategy adopted unanimously last July by Metro Vancouver’s 21 municipalities.
“We’re not saying don’t have any development and leave this as a green field site,” Brodie said in a phone interview. “What we’re saying is a high-end outlet mall here, of the size and of the description that you are contemplating, is not appropriate.”
Gaëtan Royer, manager of metropolitan planning, environment and parks for Metro Vancouver, said in an interview that his department is “supportive of Richmond’s position.”
Royer detailed those concerns earlier this month in a six-page letter to Vancouver Airport Authority president and CEO Larry Berg. In that letter, Royer questions “whether a major retail outlet centre falls within (the airport’s) mandate,” and points out that the regional growth strategy designates the site of the outlet centre as industrial land.
Site preparation scheduled to start in august
Rebecca Catley, director of communications for the airport, said in an email that the airport authority has met multiple times with Richmond staff and council in the last two years “to discuss a number of topics, including this development.”
Catley said the airport authority will continue to consult with Richmond about its plans.
“Designs for the site are preliminary, so there is still ample opportunity to receive and act on feedback from the city and the public,” Catley said.
Site preparation, however, is scheduled to begin in August. The airport authority is partnering with U.K.-based McArthurGlen Group on the project, which will be built in two phases covering a total of 368,000 square feet. Featuring luxury retailers such as Gucci, Armani, and Prada, it will be the first centre of its kind outside of Europe, where McArthurGlen has already built 21 others.
The airport, often referred to by its call letters YVR, is on leased federal land “and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the City of Richmond,” says a posting on the airport authority’s website. Brodie, however, said he’s not going to concede that point even if Richmond doesn’t have any direct control over airport lands.
Is ‘outlet mall’ in the mandate of an airport authority?
“Whatever they do has to be in accordance with their mandate,” Brodie said. “And I openly speculate as to whether a high-end retail outlet mall is within their mandate because surely their mandate has to be related to the airport.”
Catley said that the project is in keeping with the airport authority’s mandate to manage the airport assets effectively and keep costs down for the benefit of passengers and airlines.
“Projects such as this development allow us to fulfill that mandate, while also allowing us to add 1,000 new jobs to the region, create a tourist destination and potentially repatriate some of the millions of British Columbians who bypass our local shopping malls and head to U.S. outlet centres every year,” Catley said.
But Brodie also said that this project represents “old-style thinking” because it will be surrounded by about 2,300 surface parking stalls and will encourage people to drive to it. That will increase congestion on Richmond’s roads, he said.
“So in this day and age when we are trying to pull cars off the road, and to encourage the use of public transportation, they are putting cars on the road, causing more congestion on a very busy street,” Brodie said.
The airport authority does plan to run shuttles buses between the outlet centre and the airport terminal as well as to the Templeton station on Skytrain’s Canada Line. That is “very commendable,” Brodie said. “And I guarantee you nobody will take it,” he added, noting that he cannot imagine too many Louis Vuitton shoppers taking the Canada Line and then a bus to get to that store.
The Vancouver regional growth strategy is to protect industrial lands
Royer said another major concern is that the regional growth strategy “gives very specific direction to protect industrial land,” including at the airport.
“At the current rate of development of industrial land, we have probably, depending on the scenario that we use, a 12- to 20-year supply of industrial land,” Royer said. “We’re really concerned with the ability of the region to continue to create jobs, particularly high-paying jobs. So there are clear directions to protect industrial land.”
Whether or not Metro Vancouver’s regional growth strategy has any jurisdiction over the airport is a grey area, Royer noted. “Do we actually have the power to enforce it on YVR? The answer is I don’t know. It’s something that has to be investigated.”
Developing an outlet centre on that site would alienate it from future uses that are more compatible with the airport, Royer said. For example, a big international logistics company such as FedEx might wish to build an air-cargo-oriented distribution centre on that property at some point.
“We feel that’s why that designation is there,” he said. “That it is industrial, that the best way to create airport-related jobs is to locate them close to the airport. The sprawling of urban-type developments such as the shopping centre doesn’t seem to make sense to us when we have in our plan an urban centre in Richmond.”
Both Royer and Brodie danced around the question of whether Richmond or Metro Vancouver would resort to legal action to stop the outlet centre from going ahead as currently envisioned.
“The first thing we will do is we will speak to the airport and its board and show them that we’re not just being obstructionist here,” Brodie said. However, he made it clear that “if you’re asking me if there’s any way that this parcel of land is appropriate for a retail mall, the answer is no.”
Royer wasn’t quite so adamant. “My position is not necessarily to be opposed to a retail centre,” he said. “But part of my mandate here is to protect the industrial land and to implement the regional growth strategy.”