It’s been one year now since Tsawwassen Mills, the highly touted Ivanhoe Cambridge offering  was opened as the latest ‘megamall’ in their stable, which includes CrossIron Mills near Calgary and Vaughan Mills near Toronto. The mall was described in breathless terms as a game changer in Metro Vancouver, attracting regional shoppers to over 200 stores. Even a Delta councillor was quoted as saying “It’s definitely different at every gate, it’s a different style.”
Well, not really. This behemoth within 1.2 million square feet sucked up a lot of Class 1 farmland and paved a lot of space for 6,000 cars. The design of the parking lots and the entrances anticipated a high volume of shoppers, resulting in twisty and winding  driveways into the massive development that frustrated shoppers trying to leave. On the opening day weekend,  a volume of shoppers arrived for free merchandise vouchers and opening sales. When they tried to leave, they couldn’t, with many going “off-road” driving over curbs and grass to flee the Ivanhoe Cambridge complex. Many swore they would never come back. And local folks, those who have supported small businesses in Ladner and Tsawwassen have continued shopping in those small towns, understanding that the additional mall currently being built beside the mega mall is designed to vacuum customers from those two towns. The design of the mega mall complex, the advertising and the footprint is very similar to that used for the other two mega Mills stores. Since the land was leased from the Tsawwassen First Nation, some of the commissioned art includes inspirational pieces representing the Nation’s art, culture and history. But there was also the lost opportunity for this real estate arm of a Quebec pension fund to orient the mall’s windows and focal points to the traditional grounds of the Tsawwassen First Nations, and to interpret their rich history and culture within the mall. That testimony of time and place is sadly lacking and would have anchored the mall as a place of cultural learning. The mall is also lacking two things that make retailing effective~a density of consumers close by, and good accessibility by transit to the region. Indeed the mall has its own shuttle service to get employees to and from Scott Road Transit Station in Surrey.
You can look at the sales per square foot as a guide of how well this mall is doing~in Toronto’s Vaughn Mills, sales are $796 per square foot. In Calgary’s CrossIron Mills, sales are $662 per square foot. Tsawwassen Mills sales were based upon square foot per commercial unit, and were in the $275 dollar per square foot range. However this figure has now been taken off the Ivanhoe Cambridge website.
While the Delta Optimist reports that  the manager of Tsawwassen Mills says that the complex is performing “on par with expectations” the manager then deflects, saying that “We are very pleased with how our other two Mills centres in Calgary and Toronto have grown and developed over a number of years”. He also stated that the actual performance figures for the mall will not be released until 2018 “due to competitive reasons.
In an environment which includes expanding on-line purchasing,  the proximity to American shopping, and where younger consumers are no  longer spending their day at the mall, is there a future for this mega mall? Or will it, like Sears, become a relic of 20th century consumerism? Are the empty parking lots during the week an early sign of this mall’s demise?


  1. Given these obvious defects of the mall where were the voices of opposition during planning from local mayors, councilors, citizens or MetroVan ? Or do we use different yardsticks when indigenous development is involved ? Or do we just cowtow opinions .. hush hush with anything native ?
    Isn’t this racist, namely applying different rules for development owned by different races ? Is this part of the reconciliation proposals ?

    1. This is not about relations with First Nations. They are free to pursue a secure future as they so wish, and making mistakes is part of the learning curve. It is about due diligence and market research no matter who owns the land and buildings. In this case, there is cause to be at least disappointed in the market researchers who did not foresee what is plain to average observers: the geometry of access diversity and customer base is weak.

      1. What do we know about the lease arrangement between Tsawwassen FN, the land owner, and Ivanhoe Cambridge, the mall owner and operator ? Who carries the commercial risk here ?

      2. “First Nations ……..making mistakes is part of the learning curve”, a rather patronizing comment, who are you to decide what is a mistake, you have no skin in this game.

        1. Okay.
          Making mistakes, breaking even or having great success is all part of the learning curve.
          Note the difference in the development types between several First Nations (e.g. Jericho, Dollarton, UBC, commercial suburban malls // high rise residential …), yet all are based on the same rightful indigenous land ownership model with applied leases.
          The land use and development model may succeed, break even or fail and comprises an educational process based on the market. The land ownership model remains constant.

  2. The Tsawwassen First Nation may develop its land as it desires, including entering into long-term development contracts with companies such as Ivanhoe Cambridge. The loser in this case may be the private developer, but the entire fiasco underscores a major issue with the role of First Nations in urban development: no co-ordination.

  3. Munch munch munch. I’m really enjoying the popcorn as I watch this slow-motion train wreck of a development, one whose folly seemed so obvious that I couldn’t believe they built it in the first place.
    The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if the business plan was predicated on massive development expected in nearby areas to be carved out of the ALR. But with the change of government that’s obviously gone out the window.

    1. Easy car access has a market from southern suburbs or even US tourists. Likely a stacked 3 story mall with 50-70% of the same land for housing would have been better.
      But what’s done is done.
      Who carries the commercial risk here ?

    2. Sean – The Tsawwassen First Nation does not need to ask any provincial government permission to develop any land.
      The agricultural land included.
      To answer your question, yes. There is substantial development planned. Available on the TFN web site.
      What is interesting and should be brought to light is that Tsawwassen Mills and the Business Park Plan does not feature in any Metro Vancouver documents published, yet the TFN is a member of Metro. These projects must have been mentioned at some Metro meeting.

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