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Oakridge Centre, designated as a new town centre for Vancouver, sits on 30 acres of land and is easily accessible by the SkyTrain.WESTBANK CORP

It may be made of concrete and steel, but flexibility is the key for the redevelopment of Vancouver’s Oakridge Centre. With fast-changing retail, social and technological trends, it’s a must.

“The project is literally evolving every day,” even as new roads and infrastructure are being built and the first phase of the ambitious multiyear, mixed-use project is due to begin in the new year, says Ian Gillespie, founder and president of real-estate developer Westbank Corp.

But that’s necessary. “How much of what we know has changed since we first started talking about this project 10 years ago? And how much is going to change in the next seven years it will take to complete the project? The answer is: everything.”

It’s an approach too few developers are taking in rethinking aging retail complexes anywhere, he says. The Oakridge redevelopment started with a plan by previous owner Ivanhoé Cambridge Inc. to add 10 residential and office towers and parkland around the 30-acre Oakridge Centre, which is near the SkyTrain station at Cambie Street and 41st Avenue.

Like most malls built in the 1950s, it’s surrounded by parking lots. Mr. Gillespie pressed for a new vision in 2017 when Westbank partnered with QuadReal Property Group, which purchased Ivanhoé Cambridge’s stake in 2017.

“This has been designated by the city as a new town centre for Vancouver,” Mr. Gillespie says. “Where are you going to find 30 acres of consolidated ownership of land on the Canada Line again? It deserves a lot of thought.”

That’s led to a vision of a mixed-use community designed to evolve with the times. For instance, the plans envision a million square feet of retail spaces that can easily be reconfigured in size, depending on tenants’ needs. There will be an open-air high street, which the mall does not currently have, and there will be indoor retail zones that face onto parkland that’s replacing parking lots.

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The design includes an open-air high street and indoor retail zones that face parkland, which is replacing parking lots.WESTBANK CORP

Another zone designed to evolve is the food court, which will become a two-acre space called The Kitchen. Imagine an area the size of a football field where, instead of building 25 restaurants and kitchens that get ripped out whenever a concept goes out of fashion and a new tenant moves in, the design is flexible, Mr. Gillespie says. “We’ll provide chefs with everything they’ll need, from their kitchen to their accounting services to their janitorial, so that all they need to do is come and create food.”

The mobility strategy is also unique. “Every one of the shopping centres that are adding residential across North America have parking that is owned by the residents,” Mr. Gillespie notes. “In our case, we’ll keep all ownership of the parking.” Residents can lease parking spaces in the underground parking area that accommodates 6,000 cars, with each stall wired for electric car charging. But many may find they don’t need a dedicated space if car sharing, self-driving or ride-hailing trends reduce the need for car ownership and parking. The parking space freed up could then be replaced by shops or other amenities.

Energy saving and the environment are also high on the agenda. Westbank bought the Vancouver district energy system a neighbourhood energy utility five years ago with the aim of switching from power generation by natural gas over time to low-carbon sources, including biogeneration and recovered industrial heat. The goal is to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced to service a residence at Oakridge to only a quarter of what the average residence in a high-rise tower in Vancouver is responsible for, Mr. Gillespie says.

When complete, the centre will include 2,548 homes, including 1,968 market housing units, 290 social housing units, and 290 rental housing units. In addition, there will be a 100,000-square-foot community centre, a library, daycare and senior facilities.

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