The next decade’s downtown New West: cool, urban, alive and vibrant

This is a guest post by Robert Fung, New West booster and president of The Salient Group, whose Trapp Block redevelopment is considered a key element to the revitalization of our downtown. Robert founded The Salient Group in 2000 after a decade of development work with Concord Pacific and then the Narland Group. Actively involved in the community, Robert is currently a member of the UBC Board of Governors as well as a director of the UBC Properties Trust. 

An image of the Salient Group's Trapp & Holbrook redevelopment in downtown New Westminster. Photo provided by the Salient Group.

An image of the Salient Group's Trapp & Holbrook redevelopment in downtown New Westminster. Photo provided by the Salient Group.

It’s an exciting time for Downtown New Westminster. Metro Vancouverites are starting to realize what New West residents have known all along: that the Royal City is a great place to live, and the downtown is a cool and urban place, alive with the promise of a vibrant future.

Local businesses are taking notice. Media is also paying attention, as demonstrated by the recent Georgia Straight feature about New West.

I was initially attracted to the history and urban character of downtown New Westminster and by the potential of the area. What I saw was a beautiful large building that had been vacant for decades — a terrible “lost opportunity” to the economy of the downtown. We saw a chance to help bolster an economic revitalization by investing in and redeveloping a section of the lower mainland’s most important commercial centres. And, at the same time, to provide great homes at affordable pricing in a city that has the most accessible transit connections in the Lower Mainland.

Aesthetically, I was also attracted to the handsome historic Columbia Street buildings. The Trapp Block façade is among the most beautiful in our region.
As I’ve mentioned in a recent Royal City Record interview, the resurgence of downtown New Westminster is not unlike that of Vancouver’s historic Gastown. There’s always a few “early adopters” who choose to work and live in re-emerging districts. These people appreciate character and differentiation. They want something special and affordable. They also know that in an emerging area there is a strong potential for their investment in home or business will grow. New Westminster is on track for a similar experience to Gastown.

After years of neglect and dormancy, a huge commitment by the City is attracting new investment to the downtown. In turn, hip new retailers and residents have woken up to the amazing potential of downtown New Westminster. The new River Market is a great example of this energy and change. It’s thrilling to see exciting businesses like Wild Rice, Re-Up BBQ (which recently took home the VanMag Award for Best Food Cart), and The Network Hub establish a lively presence in New West.

Cities evolve, and Downtown New Westminster is on a strong upswing and headed for a period of strong growth. For current residents, new businesses will bring goods and services, and generate employment opportunities.

It is my firm belief that new home developments do more than just provide condos. Investments from these developments bring new people, who in turn bring pride of ownership to the community. Commercial demand follows. New homes need and attract necessities such as shops and amenities. A positive snowball effect occurs when critical mass of activity encourages further economic growth.

People ask me what should change about New Westminster. New West is already a vibrant city, and it is not our intention to change it. Rather, we hope to assist in changing some peoples’ perceptions about New West. We think that the Trapp + Holbrook redevelopment will go a long way towards demonstrating why both the history and the future of downtown New West are among the most exciting in Metro Vancouver.

I truly believe that in 10 years, downtown New West will be one of the most popular destinations in Metro Vancouver for living and shopping. It’s an exciting time for this historic city by the river, and I thank many of you for warmly welcoming the Salient Group to the community.

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8 thoughts on “The next decade’s downtown New West: cool, urban, alive and vibrant”

  1. It is a very exciting time to live in New West. I moved here in 2009, and I feel that this area is unique in the Lower Mainland. It combines the feel of a small town, with the walkability and convenience of an urban core. It’s no wonder it’s an up and coming area attracting new investment.

    What does concern me of course is how this will affect how affordable this area currently is, that term being very relative depending on who it is you’re speaking to. One of the reasons this area has been popular is that it has historically been very friendly to renters. Yet, with a boom in condo development, and the decline of viable rental propertiesin New Westminster and all over this region besides, I worry that the older rental properties that many depend upon, and will depend on in a very expensive region surrounding Vancouver, will go the way of the dodo in favour of new condo developments built (arguably) for people who don’t currently live here.

    It will be an interesting to see how this balance will be struck, encouraging new residents looking to buy in a hip and happening neighbourhood near public transit, and continuing to support those current residents looking for affordable rental properties near public transit because they can’t afford to buy a car, or indeed buy a home.

    Thanks for the post.

    My recent post Simple Minds Perform “Up On The Catwalk”

  2. I'm loving all the new development in New West. But there is also a downside, I'm priced out of downtown, but Uptown is almost as cool.

  3. While I don't necessarily disagree with some of Mr. Fung's musing on New West, this article seems rather convenient for a developer to be writing. Over the past few months I've noticed a lot of media attention on New West and sometimes I wonder where it's coming from. Is it just a coincidence that media as diverse as The Georgia Straight, the CBC, The Tyee, and smaller blog-sites like this one are all aligned in their promotion of New West as a great area to live. I wonder if you could enlighten us readers as to how a developer came to write an article for this site. Was he approached? Did he approach you? Is there a responsibility to disclose the history behind such guest writers in order to maintain a certain level of objectivity on this site?

    1. Hi Dave, it's a fair question! I was approached by the Salient Group for this post. They did not pay for placement. We have always welcomed posts from individuals and businesses in New Westminster so long as the post content was locally relevant and written from a personal perspective, not just about their product or service. I agreed to the post because I think the developer perspective on New West is an interesting one, and I wanted to hear what Robert would have to say about New West.

      There does seem to be a lot of media attention on New West. I am sure that at least some of it is PR driven by developers like the Salient Group, however there is also a story to tell about the evolution here. My blog's promotion of New West as a great place to live began in 2008, and the launch and continuation of the blog has nothing to do with selling condos :-)

      I don't usually make a point of saying how writers come to be on the site: some approach me, and some I approach. If readers want me to do more to disclose how guest posts come about, I am happy to change my approach. I appreciate you raising the concern, and if you have suggestions on how I should manage guest posts from businesses in New West, I am happy to hear them. You can email me at briana@tenthtothefraser.ca.

  4. hello, i am new to New Westminster after living in Vancouver most of my life and really glad i came across your blog ! It is nice to read about the happenings and going ons in New West. it was through doing some research on the Trapp and Holbrook development that i came across this article….i think it is great that you have guest writters such as Robert Fung who are the developers behind these projects as it allows the community to hear his perspective as to why New West is such an awesome place to live and do business. Also, from what i heard he bought the Trapp building in 2005 when the area was so runned down and everyone was overlooking New West for Surrey..it is great to see how far this city has came!

  5. Interesting response Briana, you forgot to mention Salient Group sponsored your recent award NextUp! If full disclosure is on the agenda………Not that there is anything wrong with this, just saying….

    1. Thanks for your comment, but this post was written long before the NextUP event was even conceived. Also, to clarify, Salient didn't sponsor the award (to my knowledge, anyway), but rather the guest speaker at the event (Mark Brand from East Van's Save On Meats). You asked for disclosure, so here goes: I have no personal or financial relationship with Salient Group, but I do think that what they're doing with the Trapp Block (and the attention they are bringing to our downtown) is a positive force for good in New Westminster.

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