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Uptown improves access and lines up big names

Uptown will more than double its parking capacity and ease traffic congestion as the massive shopping centre gets ready to open the second phase of the $300-million development late next month.

Uptown will more than double its parking capacity and ease traffic congestion as the massive shopping centre gets ready to open the second phase of the $300-million development late next month.

The centre is also in negotiations with at least three national retailers who are new to the Island to anchor the latest phase and will add restaurants - something sorely lacking at the open-air retail-office complex - in the coming months, Uptown developer Morguard Investments Ltd. said.

Four years and four months after starting construction at the old Town and Country mall site in Saanich, the second phase of Uptown will complete the signature boulevard layout and tie in a central square and escalator to two parkades for better access to retail shops, big-box stores and offices.

The addition of 1,600 new parking stalls in a new, three-level parkade will bring total spaces to 2,802 and allow drivers to move within the site, with access or exit at four points - Saanich Road to the south, Carey Road to the north, Blanshard Street to the east and Douglas Street to the west.

The opening of the second phase and new parking layout will coincide in late September with the final installation of a two-stage outdoor escalator into the main square.

Uptown said it is attracting more than 7,000 visitors a day, and expects that number to increase dramatically as more stores open and consumers get used to a much more efficient parking scheme.

The two parkades contain three "drive aisles" for better access and for customers to park closer to their favourite stores. Blanshard will now have an entry point and two exits while drivers can access Douglas Street at two spots and exit at another. Drivers can also enter and exit at Carey Road, where B.C. Transit has plans for a major transit hub.

The developer believes more options will ease congestion at the Saanich Road-Oak Street entrance.

Tenant improvements in the new phase are underway.

Last week, Uptown announced the addition of 10 new tenants, including money-transfer giant Western Union as an office anchor in Phase 2. The Royal Bank, Shaw Communications and several smaller businesses have also signed deals for space in the latest phase. Kids and Co., a private daycare provider, is preparing a large space with a rooftop playground in the initial phase with room for 84 children.

Uptown general manager Roberta Ferguson said "major retailers new to the Island" and some restaurants will be added, but said those companies will make their own announcements at a later date. She expects most to be open by the spring, but said some may be open by Christmas.

The Cactus Club bar and restaurant, a popular place downtown, is rumoured to be opening a three-level location at Uptown, but Ferguson would not comment.

Morguard property manager Geoff Nagel said Uptown's first phase of about 120,000 square feet is 90 per cent leased to office and retail tenants. In the second phase, encompassing about 80,000 square feet, about 30 per cent of the office space and 40 per cent of the retail area is leased or is being negotiated.

"In a tough economic environment and a very competitive marketplace, we are getting our share of deals," Nagel said. "They are attracted to the quality of the development and the potential that is here."

Construction crews are blasting rock to level the last portion of the site - a two-acre patch at the north end - for an additional retail and office strip and a major residential development. The site is zoned for two 18-storey towers, but Morguard said it does not have a partner to proceed. Vancouver-based Westbank Corp. was initially interested in building condominiums, but backed out early in 2010 due to uncertain market conditions.

Nagel said the residential compo-nent will not go ahead until conditions improve and some of the current local condo projects are absorbed. A new project by Tri-Eagle Developments called Uptown Place, just to the north, is not related to the site, he said.

"You know of anyone else with a couple of hundred million bucks and wants a good condo project, please give me a call," Nagel joked during a hard-hat tour for media on Tuesday.

At $300 million and built to LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold or silver standards, Uptown is the biggest mixeduse construction project in Western Canada by size and cost, said Nagel.

Morguard Investments has owned the site for 25 years. Initial planning started in 2000 and the first earth was moved in May 2008. The complicated construction schedule included keeping the core's only Walmart store open while the retailing giant's Super Centre was completed in the first phase.

"It's night and day compared to what was here," said Nagel, referring to the former Town and Country strip mall built in the 1950s.

For perspective, Nagel said Uptown has four parking stalls per 1,000 square feet of retail space. In a traditional mall settings with no underground parking, "that would require 86 acres of land, and we're doing it on eight acres."

"It's about urban density and it's the way of the future," he said. "This is the boundary for the urban core of the city and this is where people will want to live and shop."

Extensive plantings and green walls are also underway. More than 300 trees were acquired for the site.

1 Future residential (phase 3)

2 Royal Bank

3 Best Buy

4 Shoppers Drug Mart

5 Walmart

6 Town Plaza

7 Western Union

8 Roof deck restaurant space

9 Uptown Boulevard

10 B.C. Assessment (4th floor)

11 Future Shop (2nd floor)