A “drastically improved” park and larger civic centre are among key changes in design plans for the redevelopment of Oakridge Centre, according to architect Gregory Henriquez.
QuadReal and Westbank are developing partners in the massive project, while Henriquez Partners Architects is the design lead.
Rezoning for the 28-acre site was granted in 2014, but the project was delayed and scaled back after a shallow aquifer was discovered below the mall in 2015. Target was also supposed to move into the old Zellers space in the mall, but it shut down its Canadian operations in 2015, and the property officially changed hands from its long-time owner, Ivanhoe Cambridge, to QuadReal Property Group on June 1 of this year.
The latest plans for the park and overall site are being unveiled at open houses Dec. 6 and 9. (Read more about park plans HERE)
Some portions of the nine-acre park will be at grade level, while other parts will be on the roof.
A neighbourhood pocket park off 45th is at grade level and there will be access to park space (the Civic Centre Park) at grade level off West 41st, the area of the property where the civic centre has been relocated. Originally, the civic centre had been situated in the middle of the site.
The "Commons" and "Woodlands" area will be on the first level up, while the "upper green," the "meadow" and the community gardens are on the second level.
“The access to [the park] is the biggest piece. You used to have to climb up two storeys to get to the park [in the earlier concept]. Now, you have park that’s at-grade [and] you have park that’s one level up. It makes a huge difference in terms of how it performs in terms of connection to the city — the everyday life of people,” Henriquez said. “Think of how you navigate your way up two levels to a park and how disconnected that was from the rest of the community around [it]. We’ve been able to bring it down so it actually integrates right into the fabric of the city and right off the new civic centre off 41st. I can’t tell you how excited we are about that. It’s such a huge improvement.”
Part of the reason is a reduction in retail space in the development. It’s dropped by about 200,000 square feet. The mall was going to be two levels, but now the majority of it is one storey, except for the food area and The Bay.
The size of the civic centre, meanwhile, is increasing from 70,000 square feet to 102,270 square feet.
It features an enlarged community centre, a larger library, more cultural space for performances and a larger childcare space, which will include room for after-school care.
The new design plan also features one fewer tower, bringing the number down from 11 to 10. One that had been planned for near 41st has been nixed, but there have been no changes in the height or density of the residential portion of the redevelopment. The number of housing units, however, is still being looked at.
“The number of social housing units and market rental units aren’t changing,” Henriquez said. “The question of the number of units really depends upon the marketing for the market housing and what size units the market wants — whether there are more family units or less family units — that’s still in the process of being looked at.”
The look of the buildings has changed from what was presented at the 2014 rezoning.
Henriquez said one of the conditions of the rezoning was “to provide more terracing to the park and have the park integrate into the architecture in a more seamless way.”
“The new concept now has a more organic architectural expression, which allows the towers to emerge from the landscape and to create more greenery across the site,” he said.
This week's open houses will have two separate areas — one part, being run by the park board, will show different options for the park design for people to comment on, while the other part is the pre-application open house, which the city requires to get people up to speed on some of the changes and improvements of the redevelopment, including how the new park design affects the overall approach.
The redevelopment is then expected to go before the Urban Design Panel in February. Henriquez anticipates a preliminary development permit application for the whole site will be submitted to the city at the end of February.
A second series of open houses will take place in the spring and the project could go before the development permit board at the end of May.
If it’s approved, construction, which will take place in multiple phases, is expected to start in 2019.
“Part of this new concept, part of this new design, is to keep the mall open all the way through construction so we don’t shut down,” Henriquez said. “Therefore, the number of phases will be built around that.”
In the best case scenario, the project would be completed in 2025.
Other firms involved in the Oakridge redevelopment include Adamson Associates Architects out of Toronto, which will act as executive architect to oversee and coordinate the designer teams and produce technical drawings for parking and the mall, as well as Gensler out of Los Angeles for retail architecture, Wonderwall out of Tokyo for the interior design of the inside of the mall, and a landscape team out of Vancouver’s PFS Studio.
The open houses are from 5 to 8 p.m., Dec. 6, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dec. 9, at Oakridge Centre in the auditorium.
More details can be found on the city website HERE.
Note: This story has been updated since first posted.