Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Mayor Dianne Watts leads a tour of the new City Hall in Surrey, B.C., Feb. 18, 2014. She says the new debt the city has taken on is worth it.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Mayor Dianne Watts unveiled the latest addition to her big bet on a future downtown in Surrey this week, one that has pushed the city into new debt as it races against a half-dozen other suburban municipalities trying to become the region's second metropolitan core.

Ms. Watt's trump card in this round was the striking new glass-fronted, ultra-modern $97-million City Hall. It's aimed at definitively establishing the area around the Surrey Central SkyTrain station – now dominated by large malls, enormous parking lots and small fast-food operations – as the city's new urban heart.

The City Hall is part of a series of heavy investments Ms. Watts has made that have turned Surrey from a city that until a few years ago had no long-term debt into one carrying close to $150-million, with interest payments alone amounting to $5-million a year. The payoff, Ms. Watts says, is that developers have invested back in the future downtown, with $3-billion in condo and office buildings under construction. She maintained steadily, to many questions from the media who arrived for the opening, that it's worth it.

Story continues below advertisement

"It's very important to us. The economics of it is really positive," the mayor said.

Under her leadership, her council has approved spending on not only the glitzy new City Hall, but the $32-million parkade under it, a $36-million library next door, and a substantial investment in a hotel, office and condo project planned for the third side of the plaza in front of the hall. Developers and commercial real-estate experts applaud what the mayor has done.

"Surrey is one of the most forward-thinking municipalities in the Greater Vancouver area," said Darrell Hurst, an Avison Young commercial broker in Surrey.

The city's efforts are attracting office development, he said, such as the Coast Capital Savings Credit Union head office currently under construction.

Major developers in the area say condos are selling steadily, which should help boost the downtown population toward the target of 85,000 – an extra 50,000 – that Surrey is hoping for by 2041.

But those developers, brokers and others note it's going to be a long, hard slog to build a place with more than just condos, a couple of civic buildings and a plaza and create the envisioned downtown with 43,000 jobs and three million square feet of offices.

"Private-sector office space is a tough one and it's a fairly small pie that every municipality is fighting for," said Surrey's community-planning director, Don Luymes. "There's a competitive landscape out there."

Story continues below advertisement

At the moment, only about two million square feet of office space is in Surrey's city centre, according to a recent Metro Vancouver report. That's about the same as Richmond and a little less than Burnaby.

Both of those cities, along with New Westminster, Langley, North Vancouver and Coquitlam, are eager to attract new office buildings and tenants. So is Vancouver, which has seen some major suburban tenants gravitate to the city in the past few years. There are 32 million square feet of office (nearly half the region's total) in Vancouver's downtown and Broadway areas, and a dozen new projects are under way.

A sign of the stiff competition is the sudden spike in Surrey's office vacancy rate recently, as Coast Mountain Bus offices decamped to a new TransLink building in New Westminster.

Besides offices, the new downtown needs retail.

"We've just moved 750 of our own staff and one of the things they're wondering is 'Where do we go for lunch?,'" Mr. Luymes said. Restaurants, shops, small bars, places to wander around – all of those are part of a downtown too. "That is a real ingredient in city-building."

At the moment, the city's plan is to see how much retail develops organically as the thousands of condos in the area get built. But, if it doesn't, the city will be looking at whether it needs to intervene to encourage more. "We will carefully assess whether we're getting the qualify-of-life retail we want," Mr. Luymes said.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies