For more than 110 years the current version of Kingsway has linked Vancouver to New Westminster through South Burnaby, serving as one of the longest and busiest thoroughfares in the Lower Mainland.
The route was used for centuries prior by local First Nations, before the road was officially paved and opened in its current form in 1913, according to this feature in the Burnaby Beacon.
Kingsway is too lengthy and varied to identify it as a single commercial and retail hub, but it has been evolving and developing in sections to varying degrees over the decades. Most of the development has been in the Metrotown area of Burnaby where a towering centre of new homes and national and international commerce has erupted in and around the Metropolis shopping centre in recent years.
Today, Kingsway also has strong commercial sections in areas like Joyce-Collingwood on the eastern Vancouver flank of the artery, and in the Fraser Street node where celebrated restaurant Savio Volpe and others have emerged.
Developers are now turning their attention to another particular stretch of Kingsway, roughly located in the two-kilometre section between Victoria Drive and Rupert Street — and particularly in Norquay Village. With various mixed-use developments either recently completed, under construction or staged for future development, hundreds of new residents are starting to arrive in the neighbourhood, potentially triggering a retail and commercial renewal to provide all the goods and services the newcomers will need and want.
The Rupert-to-Victoria stretch continues to host various popular family restaurants serving up Vietnamese, Chinese and South Asian cuisines. Small accountants, lawyers, and car repair shops generally round out the commercial offerings in aging buildings.
It’s possible this section of Kingsway will someday rival the vibrant live-shop districts of Main Street, Victoria Drive or even Commercial Drive. Stakeholders and experts say it has the potential, but will ultimately redevelop in its own unique way reflecting its thoroughfare character, existing infrastructure, culture and history.
Developers keen on bringing more housing to the area
Vancouver-based Chard Development is now pre-selling a two-building, 131-unit condo project that will include a mix of one- to three-bedroom condos and townhomes on Earles St. just off Kingsway.
The building, called Earl, is part of a transitional zone in the Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan, said Mackenzie Biggar, vice-president, development with Chard. The plan permits larger towers on Kingsway and then cascades down to four-level buildings, townhomes, triplexes and duplexes in the surrounding neighbourhood that has been mostly single-family homes until now, wedged between Kingsway and the 29th Ave. SkyTrain station.
The community plan says it aims to revitalize this part of “Kingsway to expand the variety of local shops and services, accommodate higher density housing, and support social interaction in a vibrant and interesting place that neighbourhood residents can walk to.”
Earl is one of several similar projects under way in the vicinity that will bring many more families to the area. There’s already a rich sense of community in the area, Biggar told Retail Insider in an interview. “It has excellent connectivity through the Kingsway artery and the SkyTrain. It is a well-established neighbourhood… that’s moving towards its next iteration.”
Higher density developments are giving people the chance to either stay in their neighborhood, return to their neighborhood, or join the neighborhood, Biggar said.
Area provides value and opportunity for retail tenants and buyers
The Windsor is a completed mixed-use condo tower in the area with several strata retail units on the street level. The project emerged on Kingsway across from the 2400 Court, a familiar landmark and motel with a colourful past and uncertain future. (If you watch any amount of TV or movies, you’ve probably seen the motel).
Retail Insider recently visited the area noting “coming soon” signage at The Windsor for a dental clinic, medical office, beauty salon and noodle shop.
That building is just up the street from another mixed-use condo tower at Nanaimo Street that includes a Shoppers Drug Market, RBC branch, Subway and a private liquor store. A relatively new T&T Supermarket is located just west at Gladstone St. and Kingsway.
“Kingsway has always been, quite frankly, a bit of a highway,” said Martin Moriarty, senior vice-president investments, with Marcus & Millichap in Vancouver. “It doesn’t always lend itself perfectly towards a dynamic… streetscape.”
But it has plenty of potential, added Moriarty, whose firm has several retail listings along Kingsway. Demand for retail space to lease or buy is strong in this stretch of the route, and continues to provide value compared to more vibrant East Van commercial streets like Commercial Drive, Main Street and parts of Fraser Street, Moriarty said.
The neighbourhood would benefit from the arrival of coffee shops, additional grocers and gathering places including pubs or larger restaurants that complement the already-strong mix of popular family-run restaurants in the area.
“There is interest (in the area) from national (brands) but they tend to lend themselves towards uses like grocery, banks, drugstores, fitness, quick service food providers and other uses like pet stores, accountants and real estate offices,” Moriarty said.
The Norquay section of Kingsway is less likely to attract national fashion retailers who are more focused on shopping centres, and Vancouver’s suburban shopping nodes. “This will be hard to change in the short term and will require longer term planning and vision,” Moriarty said.
Moriarty raised Vancouver’s Olympic Village as an example of a pathway to commercial growth that could happen in the Norquay part of Kingsway — although he emphasized the infrastructure and locations are differently configured.
Olympic Village was initially dominated by residential development and although it brought thousands of new residents to the edge of False Creek, it took a while for the commercial amenities to catch up. Now, it’s a popular, regional destination that includes brew pubs, coffee shops, restaurants, a community centre and other shops and services and public outdoor spaces.
“It’s become a place for people to meet,” Moriarty said. Kingsway could get there, but will need to first experience an architectural renewal with more pedestrian-friendly access and gathering places, he added.
New mixed-use development could provide first step
A new project by Peterson could represent a helpful step.
The local developer is in the early stages of building Frame. It’s a two-tower condo project set atop street-level retail at the intersection of Kingsway and Earles, just up the street from Chard’s Development and across the street from Purdy’s Chocolates factory (earmarked to one day become a public plaza).
Frame will include 217 1, 2 and 3 bedroom concrete homes and 12 retail or commercial units that are now for sale.Four of them have sold so far, said Mark Boden, vice-president, asset management with Peterson.
Individual units available range from 567 sq.ft. to 2,100 sq. ft. The spaces were designed in a wide array of sizes to provide more of the diverse mix of retail Kingsway is known for, Boden said in written responses to Retail Insider. The company’s marketing brochure depicts a coffee shop and a grocer in the renderings, but the uses will ultimately be determined by the buyers. Construction at the site has just begun with completion expected in late 2025, Boden said.
“Those who know and love Kingsway have for years appreciated the eclectic mixture of culture, cuisine, and community reflected in the vibrant commercial culture of the corridor,” Boden said. “Frame is at the centre of the City of Vancouver’s Norquay Village Neighbourhood Centre Plan, bringing not only new strata retail space but also a significant number of new residents to the neighbourhood.”
“Once we started talking more about Kingsway in the office, it emerged that everyone here has their favourite secret restaurant or shop,” Boden said. “There is, of course, tons of potential to further expand the offering of housing and retail spaces.”
Boden said the neighbourhood will eventually see more residential development and places to gather. “Over time, we will start to see more pedestrian and bike-friendly pathways forming to continue to support multi-modal connectivity; throw in an under ten-minute walk to SkyTrain, and it’s a pretty special spot indeed.”