Uptown Property Group has pulled the plug on its partnership with the City of New Westminster on the multi-use civic centre.
In the fall of 2010, the City of New Westminster selected the Uptown Property Group as the developer to collaborate with on the multi-use civic facility project that's being built at the corner of Eighth and Columbia streets. The Uptown Property Group had proposed to build a 100,000-square-foot office tower above the city's 80,000-to 85,000-square-foot civic facility.
"We are no longer involved in the pro- ject," said Bart Slotman, vice-president of Uptown Property Group. "We stepped out of it for business reasons. I don't want to get into the details of that."
Slotman said UPG was "very motivated and very excited about the opportunity," but as time went on, it became evident that it wasn't meant to be.
"It wasn't an easy decision," he said. "In business you have to make hard decisions. For business reasons, we decided we couldn't carry on."
In addition to bringing 500 people into the downtown, the office tower was planning to build and fund about 180 parking spaces that could be used by civic centre patrons in non-peak office times.
A staff report presented to city council in October 2010 stated that the proposal provided the city with many benefits, including: employment in the downtown, which is a top priority in the downtown community plan and the Livable City Strategy (an economic development plan); property taxes that would assist in the ongoing operating costs of the multi-use civic centre; and maximizing the use of casino funding for cultural amenities.
"What it means is we are currently searching for a new partner," said Coun. Bill Harper. "It's been going on for the last few months."
Harper is hopeful the city will be able to find a new partner willing to build office space at the civic centre, which is not only on top of a civic centre but across the street from a SkyTrain station. He said the provision of Class A office space is something the city wants to see more of in the downtown.
Because a lot of the information surrounding this issue is being discussed in camera, Harper was reluctant to say too much about the project. He couldn't comment on how the parking construction would proceed without the financial input of the Uptown Property Group.
"We are going to look at the options we have available," said city administrator Paul Daminato. "When we have a better idea what options we are going to have, we will have a better idea of the financial implications, if any."
Daminato said the City of New Westminster had some preliminary agreements in place with UPG when it decided to withdraw from the project for business reasons.
"I would say yes, it was a sur-prise for us," he said. "We had indications late last year - nothing was finalized until about a month ago."
Although Uptown Property Group is no longer partnering with the city to build the office tower, Daminato is confident that an office tower can still be built at the site. He said it's a great opportunity for a developer to get involved in a "great project" that has a "great design."
"There is still that option available," he told The Record. "Other partners are pushing us. We are talking to some other interested parties."
The City of New Westminster is building a $35-million multiuse civic facility with casino funds known as development assistance compensation. The four-way agreement, which was signed by the City of New Westminster, the B.C. Lotteries Corporation, the provincial government and Starlight Casino, states that the project must be completed by Dec. 31, 2013.
In 2010, the city launched an expression of interest process indicating its desire to partner with a developer.
The proposal from UPG was the only submission that offered office and employment-generating market uses.
The city's portion of the civic centre will include a 350-seat theatre with flexible seating to accommodate a variety of productions, conference and meeting space, art studios, an art gallery, tourist information centre and the city's museum and the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
The City of New Westminster held a groundbreaking ceremony for the civic centre in September 2010. The first stage of construction included underground site servicing, excavation of the underground parkade and shoring of the excavation walls for three levels of underground parking.
Daminato said work on the multi-use civic centre project is proceeding as planned.
"They are still finishing off the excavation work that had to be done. There is some additional shoring that needs to be done," he said. "Tenders are out for the first part of the construction. We are anticipating staying on schedule."