March 13, 2012
A Royal Gem in the Heart of New Westminster
The Northbank sales centre opens today in New Westminster – a city rich in history that boasts easy access to shopping, transit and amenities.
Project Address: 125 Columbia St., New Westminster
Project size: 101 homes in 21-storey tower; 8 townhomes
Residence size: 1 bed 625 – 652 sq. ft; 2 bed 839 – 880 sq. ft; townhomes 1,017 – 1,321 sq. ft
Prices: 1 bed from $261,900; 2 bed from $363,900; townhomes from $349,900
Sales centre: 18 Begbie St., New Westminster
Hours: Sat-Thurs, noon-5 p.m.
Developer: Ballenas Project Management
Architect: Harvey Hatch, H.R. Hatch Architects Ltd.
Occupancy: Fall 2013
Grand opening: Today (March 10)
BY Claudia Kwan
As Melissa Fiorucci pondered returning to the Lower Mainland from abroad, one of the biggest decisions she faced was where she would be able to buy a home. She had moved to Italy after university, but after four years, the economic downturn there prompted her to come home. “I moved back in with my parents in October, and was hemming and hawing – I didn’t know if I should rent or buy a place,” she explains. “I looked around for about a week and saw five places.”
While she would have loved to be in downtown Vancouver, she knew right from the outset it was out of her price range. Even her search in Burnaby indicated that prices there were significantly higher than what she had expected. Fiorucci landed upon New Westminster, and specifically, the Northbank development, which will be built on the eastern edge of the Columbia Street district. Within a week, she had put down a deposit and signed a contract for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment. And how does the community compare to her experiences in Milan, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe?
“I really like the area,” says Fiorucci enthusiastically. “New West is going through a revitalization, which I’m really interested in. There’s the [New Westminster] Quay right there, you can walk to get your groceries – that’s what I was used to in Italy and what I was hoping to find here. I also like all of the heritage buildings.” Project marketer Cameron McNeill, of MAC Marketing Solutions, says many people have preconceived notions about what it means to live in New Westminster – and that they’re often pleasantly surprised by the amenities in the community. “Take the location of the city itself – it’s very central to Greater Vancouver,” he points out. “In five minutes, you’re over the Alex Fraser [bridge],” he added. “It’s five minutes to Highway 1. It’s incredibly convenient for people to live here.”
For those who would like to minimize car use, the city has a fairly dense concentration of SkyTrain stations – one is just a couple of minutes away from the site of the Northbank project. The area has changed in a marked fashion since its decline in the early 90s. The New Westminster Police Service made a strategic move, shifting its headquarters to a location between New Westminster and Columbia SkyTrain Stations, which McNeill believes has helped to dispel some of the negative traffic of the past.
The Quay and surrounding area has already undergone a significant redevelopment – restaurants, trendy shops, and amenities like banking and grocery stores have returned. There’s more to come, with a huge waterfront park, civic centre, and movie theatre complex on the way. An elementary school is slated to go in three blocks away from Northbank, and Douglas College is a stroll of just a few minutes. The project site created both unique challenges and unique rewards, according to architect Harvey Hatch, principal of H.R. Hatch Architects Ltd. A SkyTrain tunnel runs underground on the north side, which prevented anything with substantial weight from being placed in that area.
Instead, Hatch snugged four levels of parking and townhomes into a slight rise on the site, spanning the tunnel with a series of concrete beams. That in turn led to a natural ‘podium’ on the bottom of the tower, meaning the first apartments begin on the fifth floor. “We did the shape of the building so there’s no north-facing units – they all look to the south, west, or east,” says Hatch. “It’s a great spot, because nothing’s going to be built in front of it [because of the waterfront.] The other sides are bounded by a park and the SkyTrain – once we figured out how to build on the location, the great views of the [Fraser] river were guaranteed. It all seemed to work itself out somehow.”
On the exterior of the podium, Hatch went with a brownstone look, similar to what you might see in certain quarters of Boston or Philadelphia. It’s a nod to the heritage buildings that still exist in the neighbourhood; the stonework incorporates weighty one-foot-by-two-foot masonry slabs. As the tower ascends, the look becomes more modern; vertical fins on each face soar upward to accentuate the height of the tower. Hatch also put a lot of thought into maximizing the space inside.
“When you enter the unit, you go through the kitchen to get to the living and dining area. In many other apartments, the entryway is heralded as this special space, but they’re really not in use that much once you’re inside. By putting the kitchen where we did, it [the entryway] becomes a more functional aspect of that internal space.” The kitchen includes a floor-to-ceiling chef’s pantry, as well as a generously sized refrigerator. In the show suite, composite quartz countertops have been cleverly shaped to limit the amount of seaming available; in fact, there’s just one tiny line nearly obscured by the stove installation. A wide breakfast bar is situated right on front of the view, allowing people in the kitchen to drink in the panoramic scenery of the Fraser.
Development firm Ballenas has worked in residential projects in the neighbourhood for the past decade, refurbishing the former post office into the C2C loft building in 2002, and launching the InterUrban project in 2010. Project marketer McNeill says other developers are now starting to realize the potential in New West that Ballenas envisioned all along. It’s an enticing prospect to buyers like Melissa Fiorucci, who is already planning ahead for what life will be like at Northbank.
“I like being near the waterfront, and that I can walk to the market – I won’t need a car and it’s a short commute to work for me. I looked around and saw a lot of young people.” Although moving ahead with a purchase within just a week may – on the surface – seem like an impulsive buy, Fiorucci has it all planned out. She intends to take on a roommate after moving in, and already had a deposit saved up. She stayed within her budget, and will save even more living rent-free with her parents. Now all she has to do is wait until the building is complete in a year and a half, to see how living in Northbank will live up to everything she’s hoping for.
Special to The Sun