After the Mews

Photo by Mario Bartel New Westminster architect Eric Pattison checks out Front Street now that part of it has been exposed to the sky with the demoliton of the parkade. He says the street will help extend the city's downtown strip beyond Columbia Street.
Photo by Mario Bartel
New Westminster architect Eric Pattison checks out Front Street now that part of it has been exposed to the sky with the demoliton of the parkade. He says the street will help extend the city’s downtown strip beyond Columbia Street.

Eric Pattison has been away for a couple of weeks, so when he emerges from the east end of River Market onto the second storey landing looking towards Front Street, he’s taken aback.

It’s not what’s been added to New Westminster’s skyline that’s caught the architect’s breath; it’s what’s been taken away.

The demolition of the west end of the old waterfront parkade is all but complete. Once the rubble of concrete and rebar is all hauled away, construction crews will begin work on building a new pedestrian-friendly mews that includes a wider sidewalk, seating areas and trees to buffer the traffic noise from the busy Front Street truck route.

But it’s what happens after that that will determine whether the controversial deconstruction of half the old parking structure to breathe new life into the city’s historic waterfront is a success.

New Westminster has a new face.

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El Santo brings new vibe, optimism to Columbia Street

Alejandro Diaz is so committed to creating a new vibe on Columbia Street, he hired a crane to help install a 1000-pound tortilla maker in his new restaurant, El Santo.

He could have just imported tortillas or sourced them from a supplier, said Diaz, but it’s details like freshly-made tortillas that will set his new venture apart, and solidify New Westminster’s growing reputation in foodie circles.

The machine, which he imported from Mexico, is a big, expensive commitment and the stakes are high.

El Santo is the first tenant to open in the commercial ground floor of Robert Fung’s gleaming new condo tower that rises 20 stories above the historic facades of the historic Trapp and Holbrook blocks. The Edwardian structures were built in the late 1800s, then rebuilt after the great fire of 1898 destroyed much of the city’s original downtown.

The Trapp Block was once a department store. The Holbrook was a hotel and saloon. Both fell on tough times when the lustre left the city’s Golden Mile, as Columbia Street was once known in its heyday.

Fung’s Salient Group acquired the structures in 2005 then bided its time until New West was ready for a project to spark its historic downtown much as other Salient projects have transformed Vancouver’s old Gastown district from tacky tourist haunt to a chic urban destination for new restaurants, bistros and boutiques.

“Our strongest takeaway from our work in the Vancouver historic districts is that the strength of the area will come from the passion and commitment of the business owners that we work with,” said Fung. “This invariably leads us to favouring independent local business owners that have a passion and understanding for the area.”

That passion is percolating, said Kendra Johnston, of the city’s Downtown Business Improvement Association.

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