New Industrial Employer for Canfor Site

The Vancouver Sun

The site of Canfor Corp.'s New Westminster panel mill is up for sale after the company closed the historic mill last month.

Commercial realtor Cushman & Wakefield LePage is marketing the prime 22-hectare waterfront property it characterizes as a "rare, large block of development land in Metro Vancouver," suitable for sustainable redevelopment.

The property, located at the south end of Braid Street, straddles the border with Coquitlam. The 18 hectares in New Westminster alone are valued at $27 million and are designated for a mix of light and heavy industry.

Bill Randall, vice-president for industrial operations at Cushman & Wakefield LePage, declined to talk about what the property might sell for, but said potential uses could range from industrial and commercial to institutional with perhaps "some associated residential" development.

"Obviously it's an expensive site, so there are only a handful of real purchasers," Randall added. "In terms of what can go on that site, if it works for the city, the city will have a relatively open mind."

What will work for the City of New Westminster will be another industrial employer, city planner Jim Hurst said in an interview.

Hurst added that New Westminster is in the process of drawing up a livable city strategy, and two weeks ago city council re-confirmed that the Canfor mill site should remain in the city's industrial zone.

Located on the route of the North Fraser perimeter road, the site is also close to the Trans-Canada Highway and is on a main rail line.

Hurst said New Westminster can accommodate all the population growth that it expects in the near future with land that is already zoned for residential development, without having to consider rezoning the Canfor site. "We've got tons of [undeveloped] waterfront," Hurst added.

The site is where Canfor's founders, Jewish immigrants Poldi Bentley and John Prentice who fled Nazi tyranny in Austria, built their first mill. It turned out plywood for the aviation industry.

In recent years, the Canfor mill employed 126 people turning recycled wood into value-added products such as paneling.

Permanent closure of the New Westminster mill has come among indefinite suspension of operations at several of Canfor's operations around the province as forest companies struggle to deal with the collapse of demand for their products in the struggling U.S. housing market.

Canfor posted a $123-million loss over the first three-quarters of 2007.

In New Westminster, Hurst said the city's priority is to develop industry on the site that will generate jobs. The city's goal is to maintain an equal balance of jobs and residents.

"We are a blue-collar town," Hurst said. "So these types of changes [are] challenging."

Other Fraser River mill sites have been sold for redevelopment in recent years.

In 2004, the Beedie Group bought Interfor's old Fraser Mills site, 33 hectares on Coquitlam's Fraser River waterfront, for $12.75 million. It now wants to redevelop the land for a self-contained village of 3,700.

Last year, Concert Properties bought the 8.5-hectare Silvertree sawmill site at the foot of Heather Street on the Fraser in Vancouver. The company said it intended to retain the land for industrial redevelopment.

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