April 12, 2018

Tsawwassen Mills Mall, Design & Over Eight Thousand Parking Spaces

Price Tags Vancouver has been reporting  on the ongoing saga of Tsawwassen Mills, a 1.2 million square foot retail mall with an ancillary “local serving” mall located north of Tsawwassen on former farm lands which were among the most fertile in Canada.  Even though this mall is part of the very well-known  Ivanhoe Cambridge retail stable, it has not enjoyed a smashing commercial success. Price Tags Vancouver has observed that its more remote location between the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and Highway 99,  the lack of good public transit opportunities and an insufficient population density interested  in a mall experience could be part of the challenge. According to Ivanhoe Cambridge’s website, Tsawwassen Mills is making $343 per square foot in the retail units, almost one quarter of the per square foot sales of the more popular McArthurGlen Mall at Vancouver International airport.
Business in Vancouver’s Glen Korstrom interviewed retail analyst and Retail Insider Media owner Craig Patterson who looked at the “local serving”mall facility beside Tsawwassen Mills, and Craig minced no words, saying  “They took something that would have been regressive for Red Deer, Alberta, and plunked it down in the Lower Mainland, which has one of the worst housing crises anywhere…It turns my stomach to look at an aerial view and see how close the ocean is. Tsawwassen is beautiful, and they’ve paved it over with this parking lot. I find it infuriating as I would have designed this so much differently.” 

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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?


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