The Future of Malls in Canada Includes Pedestrian-Friendly Microcities: Feature

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It wasn’t that long ago, perhaps only about three or so decades back, when the shopping centre served as the hub of activities and events for many communities across Canada. It was where young people went to hang out and talk with their peers, and was also the venue for many Saturday afternoon family outings. But things have changed since then. Due in equal parts to the rise of ecommerce, evolving consumer behaviour and habits, and the diversification of suburban land use and development, the shopping centre seems to have — save some unique examples — lost a bit of its identity and panache through the years, nearly rendering some mall locations in the country as outliers — teetering on the proverbial periphery of the areas they serve. Thanks to creative, forward-thinking strategy and execution exhibited by some of Canada’s leading property developers, however, the shopping centre has experienced a recent surge in popularity and interest and is poised for a return to its halcyon days, once more becoming the heart of civic connectivity and engagement.

The ways in which today’s developers are making this happen are multifaceted, often centralized in strategies that are anchored to the tenets of human need and desire. And supported by an acute understanding of today’s consumer experience, they’ve managed to elevate the very notion of the shopping centre to the next level, ushering in awe-inspiring mixed-use plans for the mall of tomorrow, resulting in the construction of cities unto themselves with a multitude of retail offering providing the epicentre of interactivity and fulfillment.

According to Deloitte’s ‘Future of the Mall’ report released earlier this year: “The mall of the future will be a destination that feeds the functional requirements of our lives as well as our need to be social. It will be a thriving community where people will live, work, play, and eat. It will not be your parents’ mall — so much so that we might no longer call it a “mall” anymore at all.”

The Continued Evolution of Mixed-Use

The mixed-use concept, in which commercial and residential properties are combined at a location to optimize space and enhance convenience for residents and visitors, is not an entirely new one. But it’s a concept that continues to grow and evolve, seemingly in synchronicity with today’s mobile, convenience-driven consumer. And it’s one that, through the type of work being done by property developers like QuadReal Property Group, seems on the precipice of completely changing the shopping centre and consumer experiences altogether.

“What we’re trying to do is create communities, places where people can come to live and enjoy life and to connect emotionally close to home,” says Andy Clydesdale, QuadReal’s Executive Vice-President of Retail. “When people visit a shopping centre, they aren’t just going there to buy something. They’re going there to connect, to a place of destination where their senses are enhanced, from touch to smell to what they see and hear. Through our strategy and execution, we want to help bring the joy back to the shopping centre visit for the customer and to keep presenting them with reasons to continue returning.”

QuadReal is a global real estate investment, operating and development company headquartered in Vancouver that manages retail properties across the country totalling more than 5 million square-feet. Their portfolio is vast and includes successful locations in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec. It’s a forward-looking, forward-thinking company that has become known for its intelligent investments and willingness to challenge the contemporary way of doing things while remaining true to its commitment to “create sustainable environments that bring value to the people and communities it serves”. And there are perhaps no better examples of this vision and commitment than what’s being reflected in the work and planning that the company’s executing around three of its properties: Bayview Village in Toronto, Cloverdale Mall in Etobicoke, and Vancouver’s Oakridge Centre.


Adding and Enhancing Value

It’s all part of a strategy that was started by the company a little more than four years ago, Clydesdale explains, with focus on a starting point to develop properties in major cities that are located on or near mass transit lines, and which presented the opportunity to be enhanced or have value added. Plans for each property include the addition of purpose built rental, condos and affordable and inclusive housing, along with what Clydesdale calls “an appropriate level of retail” based on the mall and its location.

“We’re not trying to be everything to everybody,” he says. “We’re developing these properties with a certain level of curation that aligns with our brand. Each one of our properties is different, representing different things to the areas they serve. We approached our planning for our locations by looking at them each holistically to understand what each of them required in order to create an exceptional experience for the communities we operate in.”

Cloverdale Mall, for instance, provides QuadReal with the opportunity to completely transform the location and area immediately surrounding it. The developer plans to raze the aging, one-storey mall in phases and in its place will construct what Clydesdale describes as a “microcity”, consisting of a unique design that includes multiple residential towers totalling more than 4,000 rental units, parks and green spaces, a food-oriented market building, and an arts and culture community centre, along with all of the other amenities required by a community. The area is enveloped within a triangular plot of land by Highway 427, The East Mall and Dundas Street and will be accessible from each major road, connected by a network of streets designed to help residents and visitors easily and fluidly navigate the expansive space. A retail Main Street will serve to anchor the development, complementing ‘Cloverdale Square’ proper.

In addition, in an effort to make the area more pedestrian-friendly, several pedestrian-only routes and cycling connections will provide comfortable travel to the Square and other areas on the property. The massive 1,800 vehicle parking lot that currently surrounds Cloverdale will also be replaced by integrated above-grade and multi-level below-grade parking, conveniently located for visitors and residents to easily access retail and residential structures.

Bayview Village, located at Bayview and Sheppard in Toronto, on the other hand, presents QuadReal with a slightly different opportunity.


“Bayview Village is a very successful shopping centre,” Clydesdale asserts. “It’s very unique and very curated and has solidified its position in the marketplace. So, we knew that we needed to be sensitive not to disrupt the great retail that already exists at the mall, and instead enhance it by adding a little bit of lifestyle retail along with some new rental and condo buildings and improved access to transit.”

And that’s exactly what the developer has planned, with a vision to modernize the southwest portion of Bayview Village by extending a multi-level storefront out to Sheppard. The addition of new rental and condo residential units, a green space and urban park, and an outdoor retail promenade offering a luxuriously-spaced common area and gathering spot for visitors and residents help to create another community-like environment. And, not too dissimilar from QuadReal’s plans for Cloverdale, amenities and structures on the Bayview Village property will be made accessible by a series of interconnected walkways and bike lanes, allowing for another extremely pedestrian-friendly experience.


The Transformation of Oakridge Centre

Plans for the development and enhancement of each of these locations are impressive, speaking directly to QuadReal’s core principle of adding value to the communities it serves. And it’s also encapsulated well in the developer’s plan and strategy for its Oakridge Centre location in Vancouver. The Centre will undergo a near-complete overhaul and is set to close for construction, save Crate & Barrel and Hudson’s Bay Company locations and the Centre’s south medical building, at the end of the month.

According to Clydesdale, a unique multi-phased redevelopment project like Oakridge highlights the value of the developer’s internal multi-asset class expertise. It also presents it with the opportunity to work with a world class partner like Canada’s leading luxury residential and mixed-use real estate development company, Westbank Corp. Redevelopment of the Centre will result in the creation of more than a million square feet of new retail space, 750,000 square feet of which will be catered to the indoor shopping experience with 250,000 square feet of outdoor shopping that will be made accessible by pedestrian-only walkways. Rental and condo units housing approximately 6,000 residents will also be erected on the periphery of the site.

The Centre will also include the construction of The Kitchen – a nearly 65,000 square foot, two-level ‘foodie experience’ venue with the capacity to seat 1,600 guests. And with an offering that promises to include a plethora of diverse food and beverage purveyors and a robust array of freshly prepped, ready to eat or take-home food, cooking classes, culinary events, as well as the use of innovative concepts like ghost kitchens and the latest in food delivery technology, The Kitchen is sure to become an attraction unto itself. The mezzanine will be the location of a 32,000 square foot pub that will be spacious enough to seat another 1,000 guests. In addition, an outdoor patio, accommodating 800 more guests, will lead to an incredible nine-and-a-half-acre rooftop park that will feature a half dozen distinct areas that can be leveraged for unique uses of both recreational and leisure varieties.

When construction is complete, Oakridge will also be the home to a brand new 100,000 square foot community centre consisting of a childcare facility, fitness centre, gymnasium, youth and senior activity centres, performance hall and a 21,000 square foot branch of the Vancouver Public Library. And, just like Cloverdale and Bayview Village, the development of Oakridge will be optimized for greater accessibility to transit, with an emphasis on pedestrian travel and comfort.

“The development and enhancement of each of these locations, from a planning and strategic perspective, have been designed with the guest and resident experience in mind first and foremost,” says Clydesdale. “And we’ve built flexibility into the designs as well that will allow us to evolve the use of certain spaces on these properties as consumer needs and behaviour change, with the goal to continuously improve access to them and the experience on site.”

More Than Just Retail

Some of these future improvements will include the exploration of autonomous modes of transportation to deliver and pick up guests from the shopping centres, the ability for residents to order meals, groceries, and other products from the comfort of their residence and have it delivered to their door and, of course, the ongoing research and development of mobile and digital technologies that will help support the experiences QuadReal’s properties provide for its patrons.

Combining QuadReal’s plans for these sites with its vision, focus on the fundamentals of the retail experience and desire to add value to the areas its properties serve, the developer is helping to raise the bar concerning tomorrow’s shopping experience.

“We’re helping to build communities and hubs of central activity and interaction for the people living in and visiting these communities. It’s how we envision sites like these operating going forward. The shopping centre experience today is about more than a simple retail offering. It’s about providing guests with a multipurpose destination that encourages them to live and shop, to engage with one another and to be entertained.”

Article Author

Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry is an experienced writer who leverages his unique storytelling abilities to bring retail industry news and analysis to life. With 25 years of learning, including over a decade as Editor-In-Chief of Canadian Retailer magazine, he’s equipped with a deep understanding of the unique world of retail and the issues, trends, and innovators that continue to influence its evolution and shape its landscape.

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