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Gordon Harris

New UniverCity boss reaches for the mountaintop

June 14, 2007

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By Stuart Colcleugh

Gordon Harris is at the peak of his game on Burnaby Mountain.             

"Rarely in a career do you get the chance to combine everything you’ve ever done together in one project," says the internationally renowned urban planner and new president and CEO of the SFU Community Trust, charged with overseeing the UniverCity development.

"I spent 20 years encouraging clients to adopt smart-growth policies and more sustainable development approaches and it’s gratifying to be in a project that has those as its foundational principles."

Harris took the helm five months ago as UniverCity completed the first phase of its development. It now has almost 2,000 residents and more than 1,200 residential units built or nearing completion in the East Highlands, with plans under way for development of the West Highlands and Slopes neighbourhoods.

Construction will soon begin on the 403,000-sq.-ft. Hub complex, east of the Cornerstone building, which will include 150 one- and two-bedroom apartments, 14 two-level townhouses and a 24,000-sq.-ft., full-service community grocery store.

By year’s end, Harris foresees the start of a mixed-use parkade on the north side of University High Street. Along with 1,000 parking spaces, it will have 16,000 sq. ft. of commercial space, 18,000 sq. ft. of office space, 45 loft-style apartments, another 40 townhouses, a 5,000-sq.-ft. 50-space childcare facility and a 4,500-sq.-ft. rooftop play space.

"The challenge now is to build a community," says Harris. And, facility-wise, that requires an elementary school and community centre (2009-10), a pub-style family restaurant (Spring 2008), plus a liquor store, pharmacy and the new grocery store (all by late 2009).

"Plus we need more activities and events that are supported by the community and in fact led by the community."

Harris acknowledges that several Cornerstone merchants have moved or are struggling due to a smaller-than-expected customer base. He says the Trust is working to fill the vacancies with local and regional businesses that have "the right use, operator and business terms," and it will "continue to support retailers that fit the community and have the potential to grow and thrive."

Meanwhile, says Harris, home sales are brisk: "That’s good for the developers, good for the first residents and certainly good for the university."

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