Reporter Tyler Olsen spoke to David Chung, whose company, Dava Developments, is the new owner of Sevenoaks Shopping Centre. Below is the interview, edited for clarity.
Q: What are your plans for the mall?
A: What’s my plan? My plan is to make money out of it. Is that good enough for you? [laughs]
Q: I always like to hear more. How do you plan to do that?
A: That’s the magic. That’s the secret [laughs]. It’s something that we don’t know yet.
Q: Do you foresee the mall continuing to operate in the way that it has in recent years, or do you foresee any changes?
A: Operation wise it will be, but on the other hand, we want to do something different.
Q: Do you intend to put mixed-use housing on the property, are you working on the city with regards to what their OCP lays out in the future?
A: We’ve been talking to the city, they’re very receptive to some kind of high-density urban type of development there. This is the city centre. They’re encouraging to see some ambitious development of the site that will make Abbotsford grow, that will make Abbotsford good-looking, that kind of thing.
We are looking in that direction to see if we can develop on site some mixed-density stuff, mixed development, like mostly residential, but high density, high-rise, with daycare, all sorts of things.
It’s something we’ll work with the city to come up with and hopefully that will transform the whole area into something that’s very attractive to more people moving into Abbotsford.
I always envision Abbotsford to be another nucleus away from Vancouver. It has its own airport, it’s just outside the Metro Vancouver area, to form its own city, because it’s one of the biggest cities in terms of area in B.C. So there’s lots of land to develop and we’re situated in the city centre so we start from there and hopefully more people will move in here because it’s less expensive. So they move here and set up another centre in B.C.
Q: It’s probably the most prominent property in Abbotsford, so people are very interested in what it might look like. When you’re talking about developing, would the first idea be to look at the parking lots, or would you look to redevelop the whole property?
A: We can’t do anything to the front parking lot because we have to provide parking – it’s in the lease of some of the major anchors that we have to provide some parking space allocated to them. So all the front-facing [lots] facing South Fraser Way, that will stay the way it is. We can, however, develop the back. Now that Sears is going to be gone, it gives us more flexibility to do something.
Q: Would that involve shrinking the footprint of the mall itself?
A: Maybe not. I’m not intending to take the Sears space away. We’ll just transform it to some other kind of retail space, for other retailers. But the back portion, it can be more residential, more parkades. We have to work with some good architects, and come up with some idea with the city. And get the blessings from the neighbours and come up with something that’s attractive and beneficial to all. That’s the key. We can’t just do whatever we want. We want to do what makes Abbotsford great.
Q: The retail sector is going through a transition too…
A: All these things about Amazon, online shopping. All these things are a distraction. On the other hand, I think brick and mortar retail is going to stay and persist. It has its place … A lot of people shy away from malls because they think that online is going to take over. But I don’t think so.
People still want to go out as an outing. They want to feel the thing they’re buying. It’s like a picnic sometimes for families. So we will change the mall in that direction, for what people need and want maybe something that will attract them coming if they’re buying online.
It’s all something we envision, we just have to put it to work.
Q: That was my question: whether development will impact the mall itself —
A: It will, it will.
Q: But it sounds like it won’t mean the mall will go away.
A: No way man. I think integrating the residential, mixed development will make it good. I know you’re aware of a couple malls in Vancouver, in Burnaby. For example, the Lougheed Mall and the other one is Brentwood? Holy cow, you should see the new plans.
I don’t know if Abbotsford is at that stage yet, but Burnaby obviously is and doing real well. They have a lot of high rises as part of it.
In Abbotsford, I think once you start doing it, people will come. And people will come and go forward, it’s like a spiral. You build it and they will come. And when they come you build more.