Uptown Shopping Center

The word “large” doesn’t begin to describe the scope of work being done on the Uptown Shopping Center redevelopment in Saanich, British Columbia, just outside of Victoria. Demolition and construction of 500,000 square feet is quite an undertaking, but nearly 1.4 million square feet is a neighborhood. 

For 47 years, the retail outlet was known as Town and Country Shopping Centre, a 225,000-square-foot site. In spring 2008, Morguard Investments Ltd. – owner of the 7.3-hectare site – hired Vanbots Construction and Magil Construction Corp. as joint venture construction managers to oversee the complete conversion of Town and Country to Uptown Shopping Center. 

Project Director David Bayne explains that there is one major challenge to the redevelopment; the existing mall needed to stay open during construction. “We had to maintain a road that bisected our construction site,” he says. “We moved the road three or four times as we were doing our construction.”

The anchor of Uptown is the largest Walmart Supercenter in Canada, which is 220,000 square feet, and because of lease restrictions, Walmart and five other stores had to remain open during construction. “The road was kept alive during construction, and that is now a permanent road,” Bayne says. “We were restrained in how much site we could take. We had to leave parking for Walmart, so we had no additional space.”

The lack of space was difficult because the construction team could not stock pile materials, especially since it needed to build a temporary office on site. Any materials or equipment that could be stored on-site were done so on areas of construction that had yet to be excavated. Once excavation began, everything was moved to another area of the development where excavation was scheduled but had not occurred. “Even though it is urban, we have had to operate as if it were a downtown site,” Bayne conveys. “Construction was only set back a few feet from the roadways.”

Retail Strength 

Uptown is split into two major phases of construction, with the difficult road shifting work taking place during phase one. During phase one, substructure work to grade and the structural shell of the redesigned Walmart was performed. It is a slab structure that consists of precast hollow core and solid plank elements spanning poured-in-place slab bands topped with four-inch composite topping. 

Seven structural steel buildings were constructed during phase one, along with a parking deck on top of Walmart, which supports other retail spaces such as a 30,000-square-foot Best Buy. Phase one hard construction costs are approximately $160 million. 

Walmart is located on the north end of Uptown with Main Street on the south end.  Main Street includes a one- and two-level underground parking structure, with a four-story retail and office building, two-story retail building and two three-story retail buildings constructed above. 

A 35,000-square-foot Future Shop currently occupies the entire second floor of the four-story building, along with a tenant of the Canadian government. The two- and three-story buildings will house restaurants. The current leasing activity shows that Uptown is attracting retail leaders in all sectors, Bayne notes. 

Golden Neighborhood

Throughout the site, underground rock profiles rise and fall. Vanbots notes that on one 20-foot-wide footing the rock fell 20 feet across its width. “The footing had to be excavated to the bottom of the slope and a shelf had to be blasted out to construct a smaller footing on rock,” the company explains. 

In all, close to 50,000 cubic meters of rock needed to be drilled and blasted, but an on site crushing operation permitted reuse of a major portion of the rock for under the slabs on grade and perimeter wall backfill.  

The reuse of the rock is one part of the sustainability of Uptown. The entire project is LEED neighborhood development gold, with individual buildings slated to be LEED silver and gold certified. Morguard notes that while LEED can increase the overall cost of a project, those costs are typically recouped in energy and water savings.

Morguard states that by being built to LEED neighborhood development gold standards, the community’s overall health and natural environment will be protected and enhanced. Because of Uptown’s location to major regional highways and transit routes serving Southern Vancouver Island, tenants and visitors can access it with minimal vehicle use and through municipal bus services. Additionally, it is directly connected to the Galloping Goose trail for pedestrians and bikes.

Smooth Sailing 

Despite working on a tight site and the rock profiles, Bayne says the project has gone well. “It’s been smooth sailing,” he asserts. 

“Every job brings challenges,” Bayne acknowledges. “Building to allow flexibility to the leasing market is one of the biggest challenges, but we work with the owner.” He explains that Vanbots/Magil may need to continue with build-out or close in a space depending on the timing of occupancy on a lease. 

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