Main Entrance of Guildford town Centre
Main Entrance of Guildford town Centre
Main Entrance of Guildford town Centre                                                 Photo: Ray Hudson

Ray Hudson

When the Guildford Town Centre opened in 1966 it was more of an outdoor lifestyle mall such as we see today at the village of Park Royal. It had a roller rink and a full cinema, and it was really something for its time. However, by 2010, it was seriously out of date. We spoke with Peggy Howard, the General Manager who directed one of the biggest mall expansions in Canada.

Peggy Howard, General Manager of GTC in front of the Living Wall.   Photo by Ray Hudson
Peggy Howard, General Manager of GTC in front of the Living Wall.                     Photo by Ray Hudson

Asian Journal: Describe just how far out of date the mall was, and what you were undertaking?
Peggy Howard: Although it was consistently a really good shopping experience, it was getting tired so we had to strip all that away to come up with a more modern, streamlined, state of the art shopping centre. At one point when I first got here in 2008, we had 19 different tile types throughout the shopping centre. You could see the add-ons and the different times that the shopping centre had expanded. Throughout the mall it still had smoked glass and brass fixtures, spiral staircases, wooden banisters and railings throughout the shopping centre. This décor was very popular in the sixties. We had to start over from scratch so everything matched.

Asian Journal: How big was the expansion?
Peggy Howard: At $280 million this was the largest mall renovation and expansion in Canada. Every piece of tile, every bit of drywall was removed. A lot of the drywall was installed in the sixties and contained asbestos, which presented a challenge. We worked at night when the stores were closed and the patrons and employees were out of the building, to remove it safely. Of course, we followed all the hazmat protocols. It was a lot of work. Even just painting all of the space-frame, the exposed structural steel, in the shopping centre, we had to erect massive scaffolds, and use a quick-drying glycol paint, because every morning we had to open the mall to the customers.

Asian Journal: Speaking of customers, what impact did it have on the clientele?
Peggy Howard: We retained nine million shoppers per year over that period. We went from a high of twelve million shoppers before the project, dropped to nine million while it was underway, and now we’re running at thirteen point five million, so almost overnight we’ve brought another five million shoppers into Surrey.

Guildford Mall Living Wall
Guildford Mall Living Wall

Asian Journal: What new features did you bring into the mall when you did the renovation?
Peggy Howard: The living walls were put in mostly as a result of the City of Surrey, which wanted us to plant one tree for every six parking stalls, as part of our development permit. We have about five thousand parking stalls on this lot, so it would have meant delivering about a thousand trees. When we considered crime prevention principles, too many trees isn’t a good idea in a shopping centre, so we constructed a ten-thousand square foot living wall which contains 129 plant species, on each side of the 104th Ave overpass. The neat part is that when you’re traveling west on 104th Avenue, you’ll see plants that are indigenous to the west coast, and when going east, you’ll see plants indigenous to the east coast of Canada. If you look really hard you’ll see a whale shape in those plant walls, which, by the way, were created by Green Over Grey of White Rock. The same company that did the outside wall of the Semiahmoo Library.
We also created a living wall inside on the main court (see photo above) with 49 plant species, and will include bananas and pineapples, yet to be added. When you come to the mall at Christmas time, you’ll see the plant crew are all dressed as elves.

Asian Journal: On the north side of 104th there was a section of the mall that went west from Sears. Why was it torn?
Peggy Howard: We had eighty-thousand square feet of store space there, but it was removed to increase our parking by five stalls for every one thousand square feet of store space. We are looking at expanding on this (north) side for sure, probably a concept very close to the Village at Park Royal or Grandview Corners, a Village at Guildford, so we would have box stores out here across this space.

Asian Journal: What is the economic impact of this mall on this area?
Peggy Howard: We have 3,500 jobs in this mall. The taxes paid to Surrey are just shy of seven million dollars per year. The next thing we’re looking forward to is the light rail transit that should land right at the edge of the mall.

Asian Journal: In 2003 the mall had a big problem with car theft. How are things now?
Peggy Howard: We’ve installed over 185 cameras, we can put eyes on 97.5% of the property, inside and out, so that deters a lot of crime. We have a beautiful control room downstairs with people monitoring all of the cameras. We work really closely with the Surrey Crime Prevention office, as well as District 2 of the Surrey RCMP. We’re pretty proud of our prevention and enforcement here.

Asian Journal: You’ve been with Ivanhoe Cambridge for many years, you’ve managed a number of malls, yet this one seems like it would be a career high.
Peggy Howard: I was lucky enough to work at Oakridge, Metrotown, Richmond Centre as well as a couple of other malls on Vancouver Island, so that’s really helped me. But this has been a challenge I’m proud of, particularly since I was involved in a pretty serious accident right in the middle of it.

On July 14, 2012, Peggy was riding her bike in south Surrey when she was struck by a dump truck and was thrown into a water-filled ditch. When she made it to hospital, she had eleven fractures to her vertebrae, pelvis and ribs. Remarkably she was out of the hospital in two weeks but it’s been a long process of physiotherapy including having a stand up workstation, because it’s easier to do her computer work standing up. Still, she exudes an optimistic spirit and incredible energy which keeps Guildford Town Centre moving forward.