A major Surrey land developer who dreams of turning his proposed Flamingo Block project into a hub for local arts and culture staged a “pep rally” of sorts for local residents at Whalley’s legion hall this week and 238 people answered his call.
“The place was packed – the air conditioning couldn’t keep up with the heat, with that many people,” Charan Sethi, of the Tien Sher Group, told the Now-Leader.
“We’re hoping to start a movement,” he said. “We’re actually trying to brand the Whalley area, the Whalley district, and bring it up a notch. I think we’ve done a pretty decent job over the last so many years and I think we need to now get the support of all the residents and business owners in the area to feel good about themselves and create some business activity.”
Sethi has been building condominium projects in Whalley since 2005, among them his three Quattro developments, and Balance and Venue. All five are sold out and the latter is currently under construction. His group recently sent out 1,300 flyers on three occasions to residents and businesses in the city core, encouraging them to attend the “big townhall meeting” this past Monday to discuss his Flamingo development, a concept he likens to Vancouver’s Yaletown.
For nearly two years, Sethi has been trying to rezone the Flamingo Block.
“We’re launching the arts and culture into our program. What we’ve done is partner up with some of the people in the arts and culture area and say OK, you know what, we’re going to give you space in our building. You’re going to be able to have a base where you can start arts and culture. We need something like that.”
Over the next decade or so, he aims to build three residential towers along with some smaller buildings as well as park space on 4.3 acres in the 10700-block on the east side of King George Boulevard.
Roughly a seven-minute walk to SkyTrain, the project will consist of 1,900 homes for roughly 3,700 people. It will be divided into four mini-blocks and Sethi is lobbying City Hall to incorporate a promenade there. An online petition reads, “Think Santa Monica Pier meets Soho and you will have the picture.”
Sethi envisions a traffic-free “walkable” street wending its way through his development.
“We are proposing to the City that this should be an Arts and Culture Promenade. Basically this street should be a pedestrian street. You have jugglers, you have performers. We can animate that street level and create a lot of activity for the area.
“They have not committed themselves yet. Maybe the City will listen to these people, the arts community. I’ve tried talking to them and they can’t seem to make up their mind.”
Merchants in the area are suffering badly, he said.
“We’ve done a lot of surveys, they’re depressed; they’re losing business every year. I think in the last couple of years, we’ve lost 11 businesses.”
Sethi said the immediate neighbourhood has become a “dead area.”
“All the activity seems to be on the south of 104th Avenue, while what’s happening between 104th and 108th? Not much.”
The Flamingo Hotel and its associated businesses, like the Byrd pub, beer and wine store and lounge bear witness to that.
“The whole establishment is closed right now, except for the rooms upstairs,” Sethi said. “There are tenants there, we don’t want to put them out on the street. The hotel is still operating because I can’t in my mind throw out all those people who are on disability, workers compensation and other subsidies from the government, otherwise they’d be homeless. So I’m working with various groups to try and keep them there.”
The stripper bar, a notorious landmark, has been closed since May 1st.
“I don’t think there’s anybody who wants to run there any more and I don’t think there’s a strong market to make it happen again,” Sethi said.
“I’ve been trying to develop the Whalley area, and trying to get Whalley on the map in a good way, not a bad way.”
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As for the Flamingo Block project, he said, “It’s been a very, very slow process at the City and so it finally started to take some shape and I’ve been promised by October of this year that we should have the rezoning done, subject to a bunch of stuff.”
Sethi said Surrey city council is expected to consider first and second readings on June 12, followed by a public hearing June 26 and ultimately final approval on Oct. 23 if all is in order.
Sethi said Whalley “has been bashed” around “like a small little kid in a classroom all the time.
“So I thought, you know what? Let’s get the people in Whalley have a say in what they think they are, and get them going.”