The Impact of Tsawwassen Mills
The Delta Optimist story carries the headline “Proposed Tsawwassen First Nation malls to make area a ‘shopping destination'”. I first covered this development back in April last year. Since then the development of the port, the railway yards and the South Fraser Perimeter Road have all been proceeding apace. While the story notes that a decision is to be made by the TFN next week, I have little doubt that it will get approved.
While the Optimist does mention concerns about traffic being the biggest impact, there is also reference to the impact on local retailers: that concern seems to get dismissed rather too lightly
“Responding to concerns about the impact the two major malls would have on South Delta retailers, the TFN notes market research has shown developments of this size and format attract new shoppers to an area as the community becomes a shopping destination.”
What that actually means is that not only will South Delta retailers notice a loss of trade, so will a much larger area. And since this development is on the coast and just north of an international border, all that draw has to be on a much more narrowly focussed hinterland. Not 360 degrees of attraction more like 90 – nearly all those now shoppers will be coming from the north and east. I doubt many people will put their car on the ferry just to go shopping – but I could be wrong about that.
At one time I used spend my days doing shopping impact analysis for the then Greater London Council: we were concerned, back in the 1970s about the impact on our town centres. It turned out of course that we were absolutely right. Town centre vitality certainly was sapped when retail trade left for the edge of the built up area – and there are now studies under way to see what, if anything can be done about that. Closer to home, the decline of retail spending in the United States, mainly due to the credit crunch and higher than the stats show unemployment, has lead to widespread store closures and many malls looking for a new purpose. While things are not quite so tough here (yet) and we still confidently expect more people to move here, and disposable incomes to remain high there are those who are already predicting a similar “correction” to house prices here – including the IMF.
In the short term, given that real incomes have not been increasing for the last twenty years, and that despite the appearance of tax reductions, for those on average to low incomes that is more than offset by the increases in fees and charges of all kinds (things like MSP, EI and CPP and so on) the amount of disposable income – what people can spend when they go shopping – is pretty much fixed. So if you introduce a whole bunch of new retail stores into an area, that means that existing spending shifts from place to place. For instance, when the Ironwood and Coppersmith shopping plazas opened on Steveston Highway in Richmond a few years ago, the nearest plaza on Williams Road promptly closed and has since been redeveloped as housing. Moreover, the Lower Mainland is a short drive from the US border, and thus all kinds of shopping opportunities where prices – and sales tax – are generally lower, even when the Canadian dollar is weak against the US dollar. Again, it seems to me unlikely that stores in the new “Mills” here will be dragging much business away from the outlet malls along I5.
Of course, there is no authority here that has the power to protect existing town centres. Nor, as far as I know, does anyone other than the retailers themselves have this as a concern. While there once was a regional strategy around Town Centres, I am not even sure that survived in the current regional plan – not that that has any teeth anyway.
The combination of the SFPR and a major new out of town retail centre seems ideal to keep Delta and Richmond – and probably parts of Surrey given how far the 20 minute isochrone stretches with the new road – car dependent for a very long time. And will ensure that Ladner and Tsawwassen town centres will decline as multi-purpose places and social centres. I am also fairly confident that will be obvious in a much shorter time frame than 40 years.