A new ‘positive’ voice for Surrey’s Newton Town Centre

SURREY — Newton has a new – and passionate – voice working to better its future.

“I’m going to be demanding change, I’m going to make change. I’m not just going to wait for it to happen,” said Philip Aguirre, owner of The Old Surrey Restaurant and executive director of the Newton Business Improvement Association.

While the group officially opened its office on Sept. 1, it’s been two years in the making, and Aguirre has been on board since day one.

The 337 businesses that exist in the Newton Town Centre are now united through the BIA, he said, adding “we’re one voice now, and we’re much stronger that way.”

“Newton needed this office to speak for the community because we’ve been forgotten,” he said.

Now that the BIA has set up shop, it’s time to get to work, Aguirre said. The group is focusing on four pillars that they say will push the community in the right direction: safety, area enhancement, lobbying government, as well as marketing and events.

He envisions a plethora of community events for the area. Currently, Newton only has one event per year – the Newton Community Festival held in the summer.

“We need farmers markets and movie nights and a food truck program…. Right now, people are going elsewhere.”

He wants to attract Newton residents to “work, play and live” in the community.

Aguirre is even considering a drive-in movie night at the King’s Cross Shopping Centre.

“We just want more events, more things to get people excited about their community because right now, there’s a low level of excitement in Newton.”

Going deeper, Aguirre said there’s a need to rebrand Newton.

“I take East Van as an example. East Van had a horrible reputation and they owned that and they came out on the other side and now people are very proud to be living in East Van. They have tattoos on it. Do I want to see every 15-year-old with a Newton tattoo? Maybe not,” he said with a chuckle. “But I want that level of ownership of the community.”

He noted that East Van has a gateway feature, and said he’d like to see one for Newton.

“When you come into a community, a town centre, and they have the proper banners, and they have the proper beautification, flowers and it’s all a seamless brought together concept, that’s what Newton needs.”

Philip Aguirre says change in Newton won’t happen overnight. (Photo: ADRIAN MACNAIR)

When it comes to revitalization and redevelopment, there’s much work to be done, he noted.

“One of the toughest things about Newton is we’ve been in a holding pattern for 25 years because we’ve been promised rapid transit since the King George Station was built and investors are having a hard time moving forward because they don’t know one way the other. Newton is ripe for redevelopment, we just need to kickstart it. Let’s get going. That’s my job – I scream, I yell, I scratch, I fight and I’m here for Newton.”

He said Newton has watched as other communities have seen enhancements, such as community centres.

Aguirre wants to see movement on the city’s Newton Town Centre Plan. Specifically, he’d like to see redevelopment of the Newton Wave Pool and arena.

“The tough part about that community plan is nothing can actually get finished until light rail is decided on,” he said.

Aguirre went on to say density is inevitable in Newton’s core as it comes into its own.

“But it’s going to take time,” he said, noting City Centre’s transformation didn’t occur overnight.

Aguirre acknowledged the social issue is a difficult one, and while it’s not within the BIA’s mandate, he said “we’re one community and social issues are a part of that.”

“This office would like input on that,” he added.

He noted Newton’s been home to a lot of social services and that it is “saturated enough.”

Through the election campaign, crime in Newton has been top of mind and Aguirre said he’ll be working to improve safety in the neighbourhood.

The BIA is working with the RCMP, and the Commissionaires that have been hired, to see if the program can be enhanced. As well, it is working with Surrey Crime Prevention Society and is considering operating a bike patrol in the future.

The group is also launching a business watch initiative.

“Like any community, you’re only as strong as when you’re organized,” Aguirre said. “There are safety alerts, and anything the RCMP passes along we can also pass along to our members. That’s important.”

As well, the group is looking at CCTV, graffiti removal and auto theft programs for the area.

Looking to the future, Aguirre said he simply wants people to be proud of Newton.

He certainly is. His family has operated the Old Surrey Restaurant in Newton for some 40 years.

“Now that we’ve finished with the election and we’ve finished with the negativity of Surrey, let’s get back onto the positive…. We’ve been only hurting ourselves every time we’re in front of a camera saying how bad it is in Surrey because it’s a great place,” he said.

The initiative that’s sprung up in “The Grove” near Newton’s bus loop speaks to the energy he hopes to see mobilize in the community.

From a chessboard being carved into a tree stump, to community events, to eyeballs on trees, a handful of locals got together to bring positive energy to the grove, located just steps away from the location of the brutal attack that took the life of Julie Paskall.

“That’s your grassroots movement – where people are passionate about Newton…. That’s what you want, you want people who are passionate about your community. When that happens, anything is possible,” Aguirre said.

For more information call 604-593-2294.

Twitter: @amyreid87


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