By Craig Patterson
Retailers are preparing to occupy the nearly-completed Asian themed King Square shopping centre in Markham, just north of Toronto. When it opens to the public in several months time, King Square will be the second-largest such shopping centre in Canada. The retail component to the project is ‘phase one’ of what will eventually become a ‘complete community’ that will include offices and residential buildings as well as a community centre, medical offices and a significant park component.
The project has been ongoing for about eight years — King Square Ltd. was formed in 2010 as part of an initiative with Fortress Real Developments, where the company began to acquire various parcels of land in suburban Markham. The company ended up securing 11.47 acres at 9390 Woodbine Avenue in Markham, which is at the northwest corner of Woodbine Avenue and 16th Avenue.
The original design would have seen King Square become the largest Asian mall in North America spanning nearly a million square feet over multiple levels. More than 1,000 retail units, mostly Asian-themed, were planned for the centre, which was positioned as being upscale.
While King Square isn’t as large as was initially planned, it nevertheless reflects the developers’ initial vision of creating a mixed-use community in order to drive traffic to the area at all times of the day and year. That includes eventually adding homes and work places, as well as attractions to draw visitors from the region.
Phase 1 of King Square includes the 340,000 square foot, 500+ unit commercial complex which spans three levels. Included are about 1,500 surface parking spaces. Excavation for the project commenced in 2013. New funding from Fortress was secured in the summer of 2014 in order to make the project possible, as there had been some delays, according to the developer. Exterior cladding and window installation was nearing completion in April of this year, and retailers are expected to open either before the end of this year or early next year, depending on individual construction and occupancy.
King Square has sold hundreds of condominium retail spaces over the past several years. According to Oswin Tong, Planning Manager for King Square Ltd. and the founder of the project, the developer holds a selection of units that it plans to rent out as well, providing a hybrid ownership/rental model depending on the desires of tenants.
Retail tenants will include an Asian-themed supermarket, food court, cafeteria, and several full-sized restaurants. The individual tenant mix will be dictated where tenants have secured their units, be it condominium or rental. As such, Mr. Tong said he didn’t yet have the names of all of the confirmed tenants.
The goal, according to the developer’s website, is to create “the GTA’s most vibrant lifestyle destination featuring a luxury collection of retailers, restaurants, offices and entertainment venues. It’s a “one stop for Asian goods,” according to Mr. Tong.
As part of this, King Square will include some unique elements such as a 10,000 square foot community centre on its third level, a banquet hall, performance stage, medial centre and pharmacies, and a large park. The 50,000 square foot park, which will take the form of a Chinese garden, is dedicated to the late Dr. Norman Bethune — the Canadian doctor was a frontline surgeon in China during the Spanish Civil War (including developing a mobile blood-transfusion service) while bringing medicine to rural China.
Future phases of King Square will include a hotel, offices and residential buildings which, according to Mr. Tong, will be built on the site’s existing ground-level parking component. King Square’s parking will be moved underground as its site is intensified for future development phases.
King Square’s ‘community’ design is part of an effort to drive traffic to the centre from multiple sources, which is something seen more in shopping centres in places like China. There, shopping centres have become ‘downtowns’ for some rapidly expanding communities, with families spending their free time at various venues, including retail stores. In North America, examples of such mega-malls include the likes of West Edmonton Mall and Mall of America in Minneapolis, which feature a dynamic mix of products and services that also include substantial entertainment components such as amusement parks and even casinos. In Asia as well, food and beverage plays a greater role in many malls and in some instances, may take over an entire floor in some multi-level shopping centres. Mr. Tong noted that food and beverage will also be an important draw for King Square in Markham.
King Square was built partly to address the substantial and growing Asian population in Markham and nearby Richmond Hill. The surrounding area is very multicultural and Markham is already home to one Asian-themed mall — Pacific Mall, which spans about 270,000 square feet and houses hundreds of tenants. Pacific Mall was recently raided by police seeking counterfeits.
The area’s Asian population is one of the reasons why the developer chose to open there, according to Mr. Tong. The 2016 Census for Markham showed that of the 330,000 people who live in the city, about 67% are Asian compared to just 20% for ‘European’. Nearby Richmond Hill, with more than 200,000 residents, also features a substantial Asian population with 82% of respondents being Chinese, South Asian, West Asian or Korean. Both communities boast substantial average household incomes and both are also growing rapidly, as is the more expansive trade area.
King Square will be the second-largest Asian-themed mall in Canada. The largest to date is the Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, south of Vancouver, which spans about 380,000 square feet over several levels. Richmond’s demographics are Asian-heavy, as is the case with Markham and Richmond Hill.
Several other cities in Canada have either seen Asian-themed malls open, or have seen proposals. In Calgary, the recently completed Asian-themed New Horizon Mall spans about 320,000 square feet and is located on a suburban site north of the city. Several years ago in Dundurn, Saskatchewan, a developer proposed a 6.4-million square foot mixed-use centre with 340 outlets about 40 km south of Saskatoon (the project has since been shelved).
We’ll provide updates on King Square as it readies to open to the public in several months time.