West side construction boom won't stop anytime soon

SAINT JOHN - Retail areas along Fairville Boulevard have spurred a major construction boom over the past six months, and it's not about to stop anytime soon, about 100 people were told at a development forum Thursday night at the Legion on Wilson Street.

                                     

Madeleine Nicholls, vice-president of real estate leasing for Counsel Corporation, says the Lancaster Mall is poised to serve west siders better.

Revitalizing the Lancaster Mall will continue into August, major street work will make the area more accessible, a new strip mall beside the new Sobeys will open by fall and the old Sobeys, torn down over the past several days, will make way for a new drugstore.

The only thing missing, according to several members of the audience, is a plan to open a theatre anytime soon.

Bryce Schnare of the Plaza Group, the company that built the new Sobeys and owns a lot of the real estate on McAllister Drive, including the movie theatres, was not able to make any promises, but told the group that Miramichi got a Wal-Mart when 12,000 people signed a petition asking for one.

He did announce that Staples is opening soon in the new strip mall beside Sobeys.

"They want to be open for back-to-school business, it's a big time for them. So we have committed to having them ready to open on Aug. 1," he said.

With all this development, West Saint John is poised to become a third regional retail centre for the city alongside the McAllister Drive area and the uptown, said Ken Forrest, commissioner of planning for the city.

The west side is now classified by the planning department as a district retail centre providing services for the neighbourhood, he said. But it is the largest district, serving a population in the immediate area of 20,000 people as well as people along Highways 1 and 7.

Surveys of the people living on the west side show it is an area with a higher than average income, according to Counsel Corporation, the new owner of Lancaster Mall, which is pouring a lot of money into the space and has lined up a host of new retailers, including Urban Planet, International and Fairweathers.

"All of you are very familiar with the Lancaster Mall and you know that it kinds of smacks of circa 1970, not a lot has changed," said Madeline Nicholls, vice-president of real estate leasing for Counsel Corporation.

But with changes planned for Simms Corner, a place a lot of people avoid if they are not familiar with it, Lancaster Mall is poised to serve west siders better and bring in people from other parts of the city and province, she said.

A new bus lounge inside the mall will have free wireless Internet as well as phones for free local calls, said Bruce Creber, vice-president of real estate operation for Counsel.

The combination of better streets and upgraded public transit will change the mall, he said.

Saint John-centred coffee outlet Java Moose is opening its first professionally designed outlet in the mall, so those seeking lattes won't have to leave the west side, company president Randy Pederson said.

Published Friday May 29th, 2009 - Telegraph Journal