Ultra is the Future

B.C. developer WestStone Group builds sophisticated townhomes and condominiums in blossoming
Surrey City Centre

Just like Ultra at West Village in Surrey City Centre, WestStone Group’s presentation centre is all about location. Prominently displayed, the centre boasts a huge diorama of Metro Vancouver showcasing the spectacular views that will make West Village one of the future icons of Surrey City Centre. Within two blocks are scores of shopping, dining and recreation options for potential buyers, including Central City Shopping Centre, Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, T & T Supermarket, Holland Park, the North Surrey Recreation Centre and excellent restaurants.

Ultra’s 40 storeys are home to 373 suites: studios, one-bedroom, one-bedroom-plus-den and two-bedroom homes, all designed for optimum liveability at an affordable price point. As attractive as these suites are, the biggest selling point of Ultra and the West Village community is that they are located at the westernmost point of Surrey City Centre, touted as B.C.’s next great metropolitan destination. With gleaming new buildings, an energetic mix of students and business professionals and an influx of young families, City Centre is a remarkable feat of urban redevelopment.

Surrey City Centre is anchored by the bold architectural curves and angles of the new city hall and Bing Thom-designed library that flank Surrey Central SkyTrain station, which are within walking distance of SFU’s Surrey campus. This hub is spurring unprecedented retail, commercial and residential development in the surrounding blocks. Future additions include a performing arts centre and massive downtown public plaza (City Centre is ultimately expected to grow to nearly 10,000 residents and 30,000 employees, thanks partly to the newly constructed $1-billion RCMP E Division Headquarters and $600-million Surrey Memorial Hospital expansion).

Development to date of Surrey’s 581-hectare downtown core may be remarkable as far as city-building goes, but the best is yet to come. When finished, the civic plaza will be big enough to hold thousands of people and serve as a destination for entertainment events and farmers markets. The SFU campus continues to expand its student population, which in turn is spurring new retail and services. It is expected that at least 10 more towers will be built over the next decade. A five-star hotel and performing arts centre will be an integral part of the plaza, within walking distance of Ultra.

Construction is everywhere, and already the downtown is filled with shoppers, business people and visitors who are curious to see what is taking shape. WestStone Group, the developers of both Ultra and West Village, urges potential customers to “Buy into the 21st century,” a phrase that applies as much to City Centre as it does to the group’s developments.

It took years of careful planning by architects, urban planners and neighbourhood groups to create a viable downtown core for Surrey. WestStone believed in its potential early on, when many investors thought the redevelopment was too ambitious to take seriously. “WestStone began assembling the required land for our West Village concept at the same time Surrey City Centre was taking shape on paper, and it was a long, painstaking process,” says Brendan Mann, Ultra’s vice-president of sales and marketing. “We didn’t want merely to erect a group of towers and have residents step directly into an urban jungle upon exiting their front door. Instead, our concept was to make West Village a destination in its own right: a series of highrise condominiums and townhomes amidst plenty of green space, pedestrian friendly walkways, water features, as well as street-level retail and commercial space.”

Mann adds, “We often refer to the West Village experience as having a balcony overlooking the biggest party in town, with Surrey’s downtown hub being literally a block away. We envisioned West Village to be on the doorstep of the excitement, yet provide our residents with the ability to escape to their own community. Equally important, West Village would be a magnet for locals who would come to shop, enjoy a dining experience or maybe just escape to the peace of the village square.”
WestStone’s objectives are rapidly becoming a reality. West Village’s first two condominium complexes, Agenda and Element, were completed and occupied in 2010. Ultra was occupied with new homeowners in May, as were 11 upscale townhomes arranged in an “L” shape at the tower’s base. These buildings are located on the southern half of the seven-and-a-half-acre West Village site. On the northern half, ground has broken on Wave, a highrise condominium complex by Rize Alliance Properties Ltd. Meanwhile, WestStone is preparing to break ground on its next residential tower. “After that we will create the core of the Village followed by five more towers, by which time West Village will have a new road connecting directly to the transit hub and city hall,” says Mann.

Although the retail and commercial business specifics have yet to be determined, and fine points like the design of the water features are still being considered, one thing is certain: development within City Centre will be mixed-use wherever possible, as mandated by the City of Surrey, to encourage pedestrian activity and create a vibrant community. “Whatever we ultimately decide for the street-level components of West Village, they will be scaled to suit the needs of our residents,” says Mann. “We foresee boutique businesses and services, perhaps an upscale restaurant or wine store, etc. Most definitely we will have a grocery store, along with a network of glass canopies so that a portion of the retail component will be outside, to encourage a sense of connection within the community.”

Cotter Architects is responsible for Ultra’s elegant design. Renowned for providing innovative and intelligent solutions to urban developments, the architecture firm has created floor plans that maximize every square inch of space. For example, potential buyers often think the studios are larger than is actually the case. Cotter is also involved in the overall development of City Centre, with its work on nearby 3 Civic Plaza, a 52-storey mixed-use residential, hotel, office and retail development, being its most significant undertaking.

The most impressive aspect of Ultra is its views: jaw-dropping panoramas of Metro Vancouver. Even in the mid-level suites, occupants can clearly identify the SFU campus on Burnaby Mountain to the north, the farmland of Langley, the distant Mount Baker to the southeast and the serpentine expanse of the Fraser River and its bridges. “Ultra is located on the western edge of City Centre and development further west will only be low-level housing, meaning the views should never be spoiled,” says Mann.

Mann is excited by the people who have already purchased homes at West Village. “It’s a great mix,” he says. “We have RCMP staff, hospital workers, City Centre employees and best of all, we have homeowners working in downtown Vancouver who live here because it’s exciting as well as affordable. Plus, the commute by SkyTrain takes only 40 minutes. So even though we’re still developing, West Village is already becoming a destination.”

Mann believes Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and her city council deserve special credit “for having the vision, the courage and the energy to quickly transition City Centre from the planning stages into reality. There were no end of people who said it couldn’t be done—but they’re doing it. And it’s made projects like ours possible.”

As City Centre evolves, older buildings will come down and new highrises will be built. Many people associated with the development predict that the downtown core, which now resembles a mixture of Vancouver’s Yaletown and Burnaby’s Metrotown, will take on the ambiance of downtown Vancouver. If Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts has her way, there may even be a regional light rail transit line running along City Centre’s main Kingsway thoroughfare.

West Village is arguably the ultimate expression of WestStone designing with character and building with innovation—a philosophy the company has adopted for over two decades. “It’s important to realize that as a family-owned company, WestStone is committed to creating developments that we would like our families to live in, and that is certainly the case with Ultra and West Village,” says Mann. “It’s only once in a lifetime that a redevelopment like Surrey City Centre occurs, and it’s even rarer that it’s taking shape so quickly and successfully. To be able to contribute to this new downtown core in a meaningful way is very exciting for our whole team. Ultra and West Village are attracting lots of attention, and the attention is going to intensify in the coming years,” he adds.