The rise of Stanford North

Uniquely wired eight-phase City Centre office hub aims to link global medical-technological community from the heart of Surrey  

Larry Fisher, president of Lark Group, with consultant Rowena Rizzotti, vice -president of health care and innovation: City Centre complex will include more than one million square feet of office space, much of it sold as strata | Chung Chow

An ambitious plan by Vancouver developer Lark Group to transform Surrey’s former Whalley area into what has been called a “Stanford University-type” medical research hub is gaining serious traction.

Lark, with partner Dayhu Group, has sold out the first of eight office towers it has planned for its Health and Technology District. The second tower, now under construction, has sold at least 60 per cent of its 172,000 square feet of office space at more than $500 per square foot.

In all, the development will cover approximately one million square feet of office and retail space next to Surrey Memorial Hospital in a 600-hectare City Centre redevelopment that has seen $12 billion in new construction over the past 10 years.

City Centre is already home to Surrey City Hall, a Simon Fraser University (SFU) campus, a Kwantlen Polytechnic University campus, the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre and the 50-storey 3 Civic Plaza hotel and residential complex, Surrey’s tallest building, as well as scores of new condominiums. It also has two SkyTrain stations.

Lark’s Health and Technology District is part of Innovation Boulevard, a City of Surrey initiative to create a medical and technology hub in B.C.’s fastest-growing city.

Lark president Larry Fisher says advanced connectivity has looped City Centre into the B.C. and global medical community. The project is not only backboned with fibreoptics, but also linked with the Canarie Network, an international research and education Internet service used by 75 Canadian universities, including SFU and the University of British Columbia, and major hospitals, including Surrey Memorial. Canarie’s external networks extend to international research and education exchanges such as  Pacific Wave in Seattle, StarLight in Chicago, and Manhattan Landing in New York City.

Fisher says City Centre has used anticipatory design for technology, and increasing floor heights in some areas, to make space more flexible to address client needs. He says such planning must be done early.

“Once we get the concrete trucks moving, we don’t like to make changes. That is when it gets costly,” Fisher says.

While there is an option to buy or lease space in the Lark office towers, more than 90 per cent of offices in the first tower sold to doctors and other members of the medical community, according to Colliers International vice-president Jason Teahen, lead agent on the project.

Fisher says “we don’t like to advertise it” but investors are also allowed to buy office space and rent it to others.

Demand for the second tower proved something of a surprise, Teahen says, because of the strong take-up by the technology sector. Surrey-based Safe Software Inc., a big-data tech firm, has purchased the top four floors with an option on the eighth floor, he says. Many other first buyers are also linked to the tech sector, he adds, including U.S.-based Helius Medical Technologies.

Lark has also signed a partnership agreement with Israel-based Center for Digital Innovation, which has taken space in the second tower’s innovation hub.

Fisher estimates  “the Health and Technology District will inject $1.1 billion annually into the local economy” once construction is completed in less than a decade. The district will also create an estimated 15,000 jobs.

In an innovation for an office strata project, Lark, which is familiar with hospital construction, overbuilt the parking. Strata parking stalls sell for $30,000 each, and income from fees on the excess space next to Memorial Hospital will help cover the owners’ strata fees.

“Eventually, we think it will pay all the strata fees,” Teahen says.

Developer Charan Sethi, president of Tien Sher, which has built four condominium projects in City Centre and is planning three new residential towers in the area, says he was “blown away” by the potential of Lark’s development. Sethi calls it “Stanford North.”

“This is creating a Stanford University-type of medical and technology centre for Metro Vancouver,” he says, referring to California’s world-famous Stanford education and medical complex 60 kilometres south of San Francisco.