Flamingo Hotel overhaul signals rise of North Surrey

Development, university campus, hot real estate market driving gentrification

Flamingo president David Geertz, who hopes to create a new identity for the storied hotel and former strip club: “we’re booked already into May
for shows. The big story with us is that we’re the now the first real live music venue south of the Fraser River” | Chung Chow

For years, the Flamingo Hotel in North Surrey has been synonymous with the area’s seedy underbelly. The complex’s adjoining strip club, the Byrd, also has a notorious reputation for attracting drugs and crime and was the site of a recent stabbing.

Now a local developer and arts and entertainment non-profit are hoping to revitalize the entire complex, which includes a hotel, strip club, nightclub and liquor store, in a plan that reflects the area’s emergence as one of Surrey’s up-and-coming neighbourhoods.

The roughly four acres that accompany the Flamingo Hotel and the Byrd were bought by Surrey developer Charan Sethi founder of the Tien Sher Group of Companies, who started buying adjacent land in 2005 and now owns approximately 12 acres in North Surrey. Sethi wants to build three residential towers on the site that will have commercial outlets on the ground floor; however, for the time being he’s hired a local arts and entertainment group to try to revitalize the hotel’s reputation.

The new president of the Flamingo, David Geertz, is part of a concert promotions non-profit that will run the hotel and club for six to nine years before construction begins on the towers. Geertz said the idea is to give the Flamingo, which is located on King George Boulevard just south of 108th Avenue, a serious cultural facelift.

“[Sethi] came to us after he saw one of our events that we put on in South Surrey and said that he really liked the way we built community around music and events,” Geertz said. “And so he asked us to put forward a proposal if we were given the Flamingo for a period of time before development started.”

Geertz said the idea is to offer the complex as a bookable venue for music and private events. He added the organization has done some light renovations to give it a “retro feel,” and it will use sales from the liquor store to help fund operations.

“We’re booked already into May for shows,” he said. “The big story with us is that we’re now the first real live music venue south of the Fraser River.”

Sethi added the goal is to “turn the area around and change its perception completely.” He said he hopes North Surrey – or Whalley, as it is commonly referred to – will have a story like that of Yaletown, the upscale Vancouver neighbourhood that had for decades been strictly low rent prior to its gentrification at the end of the 20th century.

The move reflects the evolving identity of North Surrey, particularly the area along King George Boulevard leading to the Pattullo Bridge, as the area rises from seedy to sought after.

According to Surrey RCMP statistics, crime continues to drop across the city. At the end of 2017’s third quarter, total Criminal Code offences were down 7% from the previous year, with the most significant drops coming in subcategories such as residential break and enter (-26%), stolen property (-27%) and cocaine possession (-47%).

Meanwhile, real estate and land values in North Surrey are rising due to a large supply of townhomes, condos and apartments. According to the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board, townhome sales in North Surrey are up 109.1% year-over-year as of December 2017 and apartments are up 93.2% over the same period. The benchmark price for North Surrey townhomes is up 28.8%; apartments prices are up 44.6% and detached homes have risen 15.1% year-over-year.

Dave Bawa, an agent with Re/Max Little Oak Realty in Surrey, said he’s been trying to push North Surrey in particular to some of his investment clients for years, but only lately has he seen real traction and interest in the enclave.

“I keep telling people that this is the best place to buy, but it’s only been recently that I’ve seen people approach me and ask about it.”

Stephen Dooley, executive director for Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Surrey City Centre campus – located a few blocks south of the Flamingo – said the university is aware of the area’s rising land value and demand for real estate.

He said SFU has been working closely with the City of Surrey to make sure the area remains affordable for students during the real estate boom.

Dooley noted the Surrey campus is in a unique situation given it has more than 8,000 students and no dedicated student housing.

“Nothing is written in stone,” he said, “but we have been looking at options concerning students residences in that particular area as an option for us.” •